All that remains of Antoine Fuqua's Training Day is Denzel Washington's Oscar-winning performance, his baddest and best. The rest of the movie? A blustering stumble toward parody — an overwrought, operatic buddy-cop flip-flop also starring Ethan Hawke as the rookie put to the test again and again by the devil (Washington) on his shoulder. It makes for great late-night cable viewing now — easy to pick up anywhere, hard to put down — but without Washington, utterly dispensable.
Fuqua has returned to his stamping grounds after years wandering the wastelands of grade-Z junk (King Arthur, Shooter) and shorts. He's back on the job with the boys in blue! Except Brooklyn's Finest starts big, runs in place for two hours, then ends stupid (and winded) near the two-hour-15 mark. And it stars Richard Gere. As a 22-year vet of the NYPD, Gere gives the opposite performance of Washington's — a firebrand has been replaced with flame retardant.
A multiplex multipack filled with every cop-movie convention since the invention of gunpowder and curse words, Brooklyn's Finest is three movies in one, all of which you've seen before: the sad tale of the sullen burnout a week away from retirement who finds accidental redemption (Gere, duh); the tortured tale of the undercover brother named Tango asked to do One Last Big, Bad Thing before he's kicked upstairs and out of the downlow life (Don Cheadle); and the tragic tale of the goodish cop gone bad (Fuqua favorite Hawke, sporting the same patch of chin stubble he's kept pruned since Reality Bites), saddled with a mess o' kids and seeing nothing wrong with pilfering drug dough to finance a new life for his pregnant-again wife.
Seen it. Seen it. And seen it.
Hawke plays Sal, married to Lili Taylor and speaking in a Texan's poor imitation of Nooyawk (even though he lives in Noo-yawk). Sal is a bad man — the first thing we see him do is shoot a familiar face in the face for a paper bag filled with cash, which Sal wants to use as a down payment on a new house for his burgeoning brood. Then it's off to the confessional — ah, the good Catholic/bad cop routine. Hawke, who spends a lot of time glowering and sulking, usually while smoking, is easily the least Sal-looking character in the history of the movies.
Cheadle and Gere have equally thankless roles. Cheadle, as the cop undercover as ex-con and drug pusher, is burdened not only with his own problems (the boss won't promote him; the feds are threatening him), but also by the old friend (Wesley Snipes) who saved his life in prison, fresh out of the joint and looking to make paper. Tango is pinned from both sides: the peddlers and henchmen looking to take over his successful franchise, and the badges (including Will Patton and Ellen Barkin) trying to squeeze him into turning and burning Snipes' Casanova Valentine. (Even the characters' names are like baddies in a 1970s Marvel Comics book. What, no Kingpin?) Whatever will he do, aside from randomly pound on surfaces (bathroom stalls, apartment windows, coffee tables) to display his moral confusion?
Gere starts large and peters out. The first time we see him, he's awaking with a start, soaked in sweat, and pouring himself a big gulp of Irish whiskey before chewing on an unloaded revolver; the moment is set to a pounding orchestra score turned up to "climactic." It's all downhill from there: a few layovers at the apartment of the hooker named Chantel (Shannon Kane) he keeps mistaking for a girlfriend; two ill-fated outings with his new partners, rookies who've been assigned to him during his final week on the force; and a series of coincidences involving a lost girl who may just help Gere's Eddie find his soul. If Eddie is supposed to be the walking dead — or just severely drowsy — Gere nails the role.
The script is by first-timer Michael C. Martin, who wrote a movie that sounds like every other movie. That would be forgivable if Fuqua had tweaked it enough to at least acknowledge its antecedents — to at least wink — or had turned this sucker up to 11. Nine, maybe? Six, at least? Even with all these movies rolled into one, Brooklyn's Finest (aka Straining Day) isn't a box-office bargain.