Chris Fisher's "Dirty" offers the not-so-surprising revelation that in Los Angeles, the cops are sometimes every bit as wicked as the criminals they're trying to stop. As if that isn't shocking enough, "Dirty" has the audacity to suggest that in certain departments and precincts, the corruption may be systematic and that dirty officers can poison entire communities. There are original aspects to "Dirty," but most viewers will probably miss them in the torrent of cliches lifted liberally from genre classics like "L.A. Confidential," "Crash," "Colors," "The Shield," "Dark Blue" and, in particular, "Training Day."
Based very loosely on real stories that came out of the Rampart Scandal, "Dirty" focuses on Armando Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Salim Adel (Cuba Gooding Jr.), two members of the LAPD anti-gang task force. They're used to doing whatever's necessary to get thugs off the street and their violent and reckless behavior is sanctioned and encouraged by the department's top brass (Keith David and Cole Hauser). Just 12 hours from a date with internal affairs to discuss an unfortunate shooting, Sancho and Salim are sent on a lucrative and illegal operation. Are they being set up? Probably, but by whom?
As the clock ticks, Armando (obligatory cop-with-a-conscience) and Salim (obligatory out-of-control-cop) are about to experience an impressive haul of archetypical police procedural moments. They toy with liberals lost in the hood, sexually harass loitering teens, make morally problematic deals with the local drug dealers and that's all before breakfast. The necessary meditations on integrity, brotherhood, loyalty and redemption are thrown in and there's some anthropological analysis on urban decay in the 21st century. Nothing's very deep and whatever thoughts there are get lost in the gangsta dialogue that isn't obscene so much as repetitive. The screenwriters -- Fisher with Gil Reavill and Eric Saks -- don't have a grasp on capturing the distinct voices of their environment. Everybody sounds the same -- shrill and vulgar.
Similarly, "Dirty" becomes visually monotonous. The idea of capturing LA as a sepia-toned, sunbaked wasteland just isn't fresh anymore. Why must every LA cop drama seemingly take place on the hottest day of the year just as the city is about to explode? Smith and cinematographer Eliot Rockett establish an interesting contrast between the washed out, grainy exteriors and the tomb-like darkness of the police station and various interiors, but that's not exactly fresh enough to carry a movie.
Aspects on the periphery seem fresh. Armando, for example, is haunted by the ghosts associated with his previous misdeeds and the appearances of these specters make for fascinating (and underdeveloped) tonal shifts between hyperreal and surreal. Equally touched on, but never fleshed out, is the Smith's depiction of the innocent residents of the neighborhood, the victims pushed to behavioral extremes by their supposed protectors.
Collins, serious and conflicted, and Gooding, excitable and dangerous, give some depth to their familiar characters and Wyclef Jean makes a vivid cameo as a patois-spouting pusher, but the actors aren't enough to make "Dirty" stand out.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun