Much like his last film, Dark Blue, Ron Shelton’s latest guy-bonding saga takes as its backdrop an approximation of recent news from the ‘hood. Where Kurt Russell’s detective was entangled in LAPD corruption amid the post-Rodney King uprising, Hollywood Homicide sets its detective heroes — ever-angling Joe (Harrison Ford) and his idealistic young partner K.C. (Josh Hartnett) — smack in the middle of music industry drama. Assigned to investigate the quadruple murder of a rap group (played for about 30 seconds by 504 Boyz), they’re out of their element and then some.
That’s not to say the film is wholly oblivious to the environment, but rather uses it, Beverly Hills Cop-wise, to underline its protagonists’ simultaneous perspicacity and cluelessness; it also allows for Joe’s ostensibly comedic refrain, that he doesn’t “get that music,” finally answered by Gladys Knight, as a former Motown singer and mother of elusive witness K-Ro (Kurupt), who lays it out: “You ain’t supposed to.”
He is, however, supposed to solve the case, which vaguely but pointedly resembles the Biggie and Tupac murders. That is, the toxic mastermind looks to be a Suge Knightish figure, an intimidating label executive named Antoine Sartain (Isaiah Washington), with dirty-working connections provided by gnarly ex-cop Wasley (Dwight Yoakam). Sartain has enough money and more than enough attitude to make him seem untouchable, which, unsurprisingly in a movie, makes him the primary suspect for Joe and K.C.’s investigation.
But just as this is starting to look like a very standard “white-cops-save-the-racialized-day” movie, it appears that they don’t quite get it — and maybe they aren’t supposed to. Shelton and ex-cop/co-writer Robert Souza aren’t interested in resolutions so much as the quirky ways that they remain unattainable (such that the film’s finale turns plain silly). And so, both Joe and K.C. have other pursuits, economically motivated (that such concerns also motive police corruption is the dark — or the Dark Blue — underside of Hollywood Homicide).
As it happens, cops’ pay in LA (as elsewhere) isn’t nearly enough to pay bills, especially with three alimonies and child support, and so Joe has another gig. As it also happens, when he walks into the club where the hiphoppers have been gunned down in pools of blood, he meets the owner, Julius (Master P, in entertaining full-on self-love mode). While it appears that Joe and Julius have nothing in common, in fact, Julius is looking for a new house. Talk about your coincidences: Joe has circuitous knowledge of a $6 million manse whose owner Jerry (Martin Landau, looking appropriately baffled) wants to unload.
For his part, K.C. teaches yoga classes, where he meets perfect California girls (thus “explaining” the fact that he beds a different lithe beauty every night), and aspires to be an actor; he even convinces face-twisty Joe to run lines with him, from A Streetcar Named Desire, with K.C. as Stanley (this one-night-only local production, performed at film’s end, is hardly as hilarious as it may have seemed on the set).
K.C.’s affable lack of commitment to his day job parallels Joe’s slightly more intensive disinterest, but rather than compromising their instinct or insight, their distractedness appears to help them toward their ends. And, as their sideline occupations suggest, Hollywood Homicide adopts Shelton’s usual tack of diverting from and deconstructing generic formula. It’s a buddy movie where the arguments are petty and off-topic; an action comedy that moves slowly and not very comically; and a detective story less interested in plot details than in secondary characters, detouring to spend time with colorful oddballs, including Lou Diamond Phillips’ turn as Wanda the undercover cop in drag (a turn that actually seems abruptly cut), Smokey Robinson’s appearance as a cab driver, and the always-welcome Andre Benjamin’s appearance in Sartain’s studio (where one of the receptionists is played by Valarie Rae Miller, late of Dark Angel).
These strange little bits suggest that the terrain explored by the detectives is only partly legible. And so, they get a little help, from girls. The first is Cleo (Shelton’s game wife Lolita Davidovich), a wealthy, well-connected madam with connections and info to sell to whomever pays best (in her way, not so different from the guys, though they tend to see her as manipulative). And the second is Joe’s lover, a radio psychic named Ruby (Lena Olin, playing the patient, wise, sexy woman usually played by Davidovich in Shelton’s movies). As Ruby is also the ex of Joe’s archrival, Benny (underused Bruce Greenwood), some weak subplotty points accumulate: Benny now works in I.A., and is bent on making Joe’s life hell. The greatest contribution by Ruby, meanwhile, is a psychic moment, confirmation of K.C.’s crunchy-granola instincts and useful instruction to resolutely pragmatic Joe.
Shelton’s efforts to undermine are always admirable, even if they might teeter between erratic and predictable. Whereas his other two-guys-and-a-girl movies — Bull Durham (1988), White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Tin Cup (1996), or Play It To the Bone (1999) — pit boys against one another who are differentiated by generation, class, or race. Here the differences have to do with sensibility and aesthetics. Short version: Joe’s hardheaded and eats cheeseburgers, K.C.’s into fluidity and bean sprouts.
The case becomes increasingly convoluted, with a side trip into K.C.’s personal past (his cop dad was killed on duty, and so the kid has a little vengeance working on the prime suspect). Even more convolutedly, Joe and Antoine’s enmity devolving into an outright ridiculous climax of a chase scene — driving on sidewalks, bleeding in elevators, leaping from rooftops, tripping and huffing and puffing and terribly awkward punching and kicking. At this point, a woman near me at the preview screening moaned, “This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen!” In fact, it’s a movie that relentlessly contests the very conventions it rolls out, turning them inside out and upside down. As an anti-cop-movie movie, Hollywood Homicide has its own sort of attitude: if you don’t get it, maybe you aren’t supposed to.