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MOVIE REVIEW: "Rampart" $8/10

There was a time I thought about becoming a police officer. It was high school, we were learning about all about the different stages of investiagation. It had a puzzle-like quality to it, putting together pieces until you had a clear picture of something that happened.

But, there's that other part of being a police officer. The "something" in that last paragraph. The part where you get behind the wheel and wait until your radio goes off, taking you to a location where the worst things in society are happening. In some cities, they happen every day. Over and over and over.

What happens when that "worst thing in society," the person the police are assigned to go after, ends up in the role of authority? Give a monster a gun and a badge - you get Dave Brown.

It takes the wild eyes of Woody Harrelson to pull a role like this off. Officer Brown is as crooked as the veins snaking around his skin-tight skull. When on patrol with a rookie, he shows her how to scare off a group of minorities by accelerating into them and blaring his siren. Later they get lunch, where he demands the Rook eat each of her french fries, even after she's full.

The guy doesn't like when people waste food. He's racist. He's sexist. He carries the nickname "Date Rape Dave" - in honor of a known date rapist he may or may not have killed. He wears the moniker like he wears his badge - loud and proud. 

He lives with his two exes who happen to be sisters. He has one daughter with each of them. They're about as well-rounded as you would imagine.

"Rampart"takes place in 1999. The title refers to the Rampart division of the police force, which is knee deep in a nasty corruption scandal. That brings officers like Dave front and center, easy fall guys - especially after he's videotaped beating a man to a near death. What follows is Dave's attempt to hang onto his badge for dear life, because he is a man who cannot live without the power to exert his will on others. 

The movie is directed by Oren Moverman, who also directed Harrelson in 2009's "The Messenger." There, Harrelson played a millitary officer in charge of bringing the worst news to families. "Rampart's" Date Rape Dave isn't there to comfort or console, he's there to control.

Moverman's latest movie is high on contrast. The blacks are thick, the whites are hot - I found myself squinting a lot during this movie. The design is spot on, capturing the smoggy feel of a Los Angeles summer. The movie takes some other visual chances, like the rapid pans during a confrontation between Dave and higher ups in the police force. They feel jarring and out of place, but so does pretty much everything about the movie's central character. 

There's no avoiding that many viewers will walk into "Rampart" expecting to see "Training Day." They will be dissapointed. There is no scene-chewing Denzel Washington. There is no moment of building tension that explodes in a fury of bullets and vindication. There is just a man who is a monster. Nobody wants to see him change. They just want him gone, out of their lives forever. 

I don't blame them.

"Rampart" earns a Leshock Value of $8 out of a possible $10.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun