MTV vet Antoine Fuqua was staking out a career as a dependable B-movie director until 2001’s cred-boosting Training Day, a fairly routine crime thriller elevated by Denzel Washington’s ferocious jet stream. Brooklyn’s Finest, Fuqua’s heralded return to the genre, lands firmly in Clichéville: a place where an Italian cop has sons named Vinnie and Vito; an undercover detective enters a bar as “The Great Pretender” plays on the jukebox; and an aged, world-weary veteran does drugs to the strains of “White Rabbit.” (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” presumably got lost under a car seat on its way to the mixing studio.) Throw in some ridiculous bursts of overdone violence and the most embarrassing sex scene that Richard Gere’s name has ever been associated with, and you’ve got a movie that bears a distinct resemblance to a feature-length episode of The Simpsons’ McBain.
Debuting screenwriter Michael C. Martin’s plot follows a trio of down-on-their-luck policemen (Ethan Hawke’s corrupted vice cop, Don Cheadle’s conflicted narc, and Gere’s beaten-down patrolman) in various stages of breakdown from the never-ending flow of scuzz on the streets. It’s the sort of thing that Sidney Lumet used to knock out with regularity in the 1970s and ’80s, and Martin never misses an opportunity to remind viewers that he’s seen those earlier, better movies. By the time Gere reveals that he has, yes, seven days until retirement, it’s hard to bite back the snickers.
Fuqua does still have a touch with actors, and his film has a few moments of undeniable performer’s grace, particularly when dealing with Cheadle’s uneasy relationship with Wesley Snipes’s kingpin. Any other virtues, unfortunately, are lost in a wash of pretentious symbolism, cluttered staging, and fuhgeddaboutit accents. Bombast is too subtle of a word, really.