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'Hollywood Homicide' relatively refreshing

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   June 13, 2003 at 11:06 AM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, June 12 (UPI) -- I'm a huge fan of the cynical but cheerful writer-director Ron Shelton. With "Bull Durham," this former minor league second baseman invented the genre of the intelligent-sports-movie-for-grownups. He then put that style to use in one of the most insightful movies ever about race, "White Men Can't Jump."

Shelton, though, is not quite talented enough to make two straight films about gruff Los Angeles Police Department detectives and their naïve young partners. He shouldn't have divided his efforts between last winter's leaden "Dark Blue"(with Kurt Russell and Scott Speedman) and this summer's fluffy "Hollywood Homicide" (with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett).

In this season of sequels and remakes, however, "Hollywood Homicide" is at least based on an original script. Of course, this comedy has been marketed to reassuringly remind the public of every other cop buddy movie in history.

Since Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep," no single job has been portrayed more often than Hollywood Boulevard detective. And since Jack Webb's "Dragnet," no institution has been depicted more than the LAPD.

Apparently, no location is going to be filmed more constantly than the subway station at Hollywood and Highland. Although the same spot also featured prominently in last month's "The Italian Job," the entertainment industry types at the screening of "Hollywood Homicide" hadn't tired of it. They still seemed amazed by the concept of public transportation. How do you valet park a subway train?

Despite all the clichés, "Hollywood Homicide" is relatively refreshing because of the 57-year-old Shelton's evident disdain for what LA cop movies are supposed to be about: murders, chases, investigations, and detonations. There's a single fireball, which Shelton lingers over endlessly, as if to say, "I don't know what you young people see in this, but get your fill. There won't be another one."

Instead, Shelton and his novice co-writer Ron Souza, a retired LAPD detective, want to show us what policemen are actually interested in: moonlighting and real estate.

Ford, the all-time box office champ, is back to doing world-weary and wry, a beaten down version of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, as he plays a murder investigator with a realtor's license who is desperate to unload a house he can't afford.

Hartnett (who, in "Pearl Harbor," was the pretty boy who wasn't Ben Affleck) portrays Ford's New Ageish partner who has a sideline teach yoga to beautiful actress-model-whatevers. Hartnett's okay, but the almost identical-looking Ashton Kutcher of "That '70s Show" would have been livelier.

Movies traditionally depict cops as relentlessly, exhaustingly obsessed with the cases they're trying to crack (unless they are about to retire to a fishing shack, which is when they get murdered).

But if you are LAPD, you've got a union job with carefully negotiated hours. Moreover, you're going to retire while still in your prime, so you need to line up another career (as co-writer Souza successfully did). And LA is the second-job capital of America. Show biz keeps a huge number of energetic Angelenos semi-employed, so your neighbors are always talking about their outside ventures.

That's why the LAPD union's big demand has been for a workweek of three straight 12-hour days -- it interferes less with cops' parallel careers.

Real estate is a natural for cops because they drive around all day and learn first about the changing neighborhood crime rates that drive housing prices up and down.

After a rap group is gunned down on stage, Ford interrogates the owner of the nightclub, played by hip-hop zillionaire Master P. Demanding, to know why such a wealthy man lives in a hotel, Ford discovers Master P. is in the market for a mansion, which instantly converts him from murder suspect to real estate client.

Ford follow the clues to another rap mogul, an elegant Puff Daddy-style label owner who employs off-duty LAPD cops as security. He may have had one of his bands executed to encourage the others not to try to break the unconscionable contracts he'd signed them to when they were ignorant youths.

The storyline is clearly inspired by the astonishing and still unsolved 1996 gangland murders of rap stars Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Ever since, screenwriters have been trying to figure out how to make a feature out of this without winding up dead themselves.

Prudently, Shelton and Souza just play it for laughs. Unfortunately, they get mostly smiles for the first hour. "If I take my gingko I can remember where I put my Viagra," is characteristic of Shelton's middle-aged humor.

This character-driven farce ultimately pays off with some big laughs during the absurd final chase. It's climaxed by Ford commandeering a little girl's pink bicycle and furiously pedaling in hot pursuit, all the while shouting offers and counteroffers into his cell phone as he tries to close the mansion's sale.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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