Hollywood Homicide

(2003) ** Pg-13
111 min. distributer. Director: Ron Shelton. Cast: Harrison Ford, Josh Hartnett, Lena Olin, Bruce Greenwood, Isaiah Washington.

Hollywood Homicide is a silly lark, one's affection for star Harrison Ford and director Ron Shelton (like mine) or for Josh Hartnett (like millions of females) notwithstanding. At best, Hollywood Homicide's good-cop, bad-cop, buddy comedy routine is cute; at worst, it's cringe-worthy.

Ford plays Joe Gavilan, an aging homicide detective who sells real estate on the side; his young partner K.C. Calden (Hartnett) teaches yoga but pines for an acting career. The uneasy duo strive toward their respective brass rings while working a record-industry murder case set off by record label president Antoine Sartain (Isaiah Washington, wasted in a one-note role).

Shelton co-wrote the script with first-time scribe (and former L.A.P.D. detective) Robert Souza. The result brings to light the little-known moonlighting of career cops, but the examination is too tongue-in-cheek to generate genuine interest. The mystery is absurdly overplotted and contrived (the coincidence-riddled script could be misinterpreted as parody), but Shelton plays it all in the teeter-tottering comedy-thriller style of Lethal Weapon. Unlike Lethal Weapon, Shelton errs on the side of frothy comedy, so the potentially dark depths of the story remain unplumbed and the thrills never locate the spine. Shelton undermines even his extended action finale with insistent repetition of the same preposterous joke: Ford taking cell phone calls during a high-speed chase. The slapdash technique only occasionally connects.

Though Ford seems on unsure footing, he hardly seems to blame. Reflecting his own public persona, Ford plays Gavilan as half-tickled and half-grumpy. In one scene, he seems to be affecting an old-time performance (swinging Cagney arms and spitting "ain't"); in one of his love scenes, Shelton makes him look like Leslie Nielsen in a Naked Gun picture. But most of the time, the sixty-year-old Ford remains credible as a star presence and a commanding action performer. Ford has always evinced a humorous flair, but too little here is actually funny. Hartnett appears even more inconsequential than he is in the shadow of the heavyweight Ford.

Shelton's take on Hollywood ironically lacks the rooted credibility of his sports films, but his sense of fun is infectious. Jabs at yoga, cell phones, callow actors, and egotistical industry types are painfully obvious, but Shelton lets Hollywood's honorary mayor Johnny Grant speechify in front of Graumann's Chinese theatre; casts Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, and Frank Sinatra, Jr.; and opens and closes the film with "I Love Cali (in the Summertime)," a friendly nod to his release date. At one point, Shelton has a news chopper reporter spew, "I've never seen such drama in Hollywood before."

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