Hollywood Homicide Review

If ever a movie's been killed by bad marketing and false expectations, it's Hollywood Homicide. Released in the States at the height of the summer blockbuster season and sold as a generic buddy-cop action comedy - a Caucasian Bad Boys - it disappointed audiences looking for cheap thrills. For a start, there's very little action in the film and the comedy is not of the dumb, knockabout kind. Now, for its British rollout, the distributors, Columbia Pictures are making matters worse by selling it as a straight action adventure, with a terrible new poster (not the one on the left!) that looks like Die Another Day's.

The truth is, Hollywood Homicide is an altogether more sophisticated piece of entertainment. First and foremost it's a satire of Los Angeles and the entertainment industry. The homicide in the title, the killings of four members of an up-and-coming hip hop group is inspired by the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. and by the subsequent speculation about who was responsible. If you've seen Nick Broomfield's documentary on the subject "Biggie & Tupac", you'll have a good idea who the villain is based on. Other famous criminal cases and media circuses from L.A.'s recent history are also referenced but it would spoil the fun to tell you which ones. In fact just about every plot point in the film, from dubious New Age spiritualism to everyone wanting to be in the entertainment business to the ubiquitous cellphones and their personalised ringtones, takes a little swipe at life in the city of angels. Some of the humour may go over the heads of viewers who aren't fully clued up on L.A. lore but there's more to Hollywood Homicide than in-jokes.

It's also a wry parody of cop movies with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett playing a couple of very unconventional movie cops. Detective Joe Gavilan (Ford) is an ageing cynic whose police career takes second place to selling real estate, which he does to pay for his three divorces. Unfortunately, he's not very good at it and is now stuck with an ugly $600,000 mansion in a district no one wants to live in. K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) is a rookie who joined the force because his dad was a cop and is already having doubts. He also has a second job, teaching yoga to a class full of limber young women (he's very spiritual!) and what he really wants to do is act. Neither of these guys is the kind of supercop you expect in a movie like this. Calden can't even shoot straight while the more experienced Gavilan turns to his girlfriend, a radio psychic (Lena Olin), to help him break cases.

They're great characters and it's fun watching Ford and Hartnett play off each other and send up their respective images - the world-weary sourpuss and the airheaded male bimbo. It's also a pleasure to watch Ford play comedy again. He has a gift for it that he uses all too rarely. Few comedians, let alone actors, can get big laughs with just a facial expression like Ford can. The rest of the cast play their roles more or less straight, though I liked Olin's sexy, down-to-earth clairvoyant who admits sometimes she sees things, sometimes she flips a coin and sometimes she just makes shit up. There are also a few celebrity cameos which, for once, are funny.

Director Ron Shelton deserves a lot more credit for his work here than he's received. Most famous for his films about sports, he's recently turned to the police for inspiration. His last film, Dark Blue was a much more serious and critical look at the LAPD and he also co-scripted the forthcoming Bad Boys II. Hollywood Homicide is closer in style to the character comedies he's best known for, like White Men Can't Jump, Bull Durham and Tin Cup. The eccentric, flawed heroes who come through in the end are classic Shelton characters, as is the amiable, rambling style. This may be what's confused a lot of critics and audiences. More than any other genre, cop movies are usually fast-moving and plot-driven. Dark Blue fit into that mould but this time, making a comedy, Shelton's more laid back and spends more time on the details. He'd prefer to have fun with a scene that isn't relevant to the plot than just rush through some exposition and a couple of one-liners before cutting to another chase.

There is a chase as it happens, at the climax and it's a good one, played mostly for laughs like the rest of the movie but still exciting enough to prove Shelton can shoot action better than some of the directors who specialise in it. Technically Hollywood Homicide is impeccable. There's excellent use of locations, which take in many of LA's more famous sights, from Grauman's Chinese Theater to the canals of Venice. Ironically, the movie serves as an advert for the city at the same time as it makes fun of it. Okay, I have to raise my hands here and admit I'm a fan of this director and my positive review is in the minority. Of the critics sampled by RottenTomatoes.com, only 29% liked it and the box office has been dire. However, I can only give you my opinion, which is that Hollywood Homicide has been misunderstood. Appreciated for what it is, it's one of the funniest and most likeable comedies of the year.



out of 10

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