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Hollywood Homicide: Police Brutality 

Rating: *

A few weeks ago when The Matrix Reloaded opened, much of the talk centered around the highway chase sequence that lasts a full 15 minutes. But that set piece is mere child's play when compared to the climactic chase that closes Hollywood Homicide (* out of four): This one lasts a full three hours.

Or so it seems. Truth be told, I can't pinpoint exactly how long this interminable sequence goes on, because during that portion of this dreadful action-comedy, my brain was so numb that even a lobotomy would have been a welcome diversion. Charitable critics and moviegoers -- and I mean "charitable" to the extent that Mother Teresa comparisons are in order -- might describe Hollywood Homicide as the perfect popcorn picture, but even that's provided you like your bag filled with burnt pieces and unpopped kernels.

Among the astonishing number of jokes that don't work in this "buddy cop" flick, one that's given a merciless amount of screen time involves the efforts of greenhorn cop K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett) to make it on the side as an actor. He spends the entire movie rehearsing the Stanley Kowalski role in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, and when we finally see the finished product on stage, it's expectedly dreadful. But the scene isn't funny because it quickly sinks in that this entire big-budget movie isn't any better than K.C.'s amateur attempt at Kowalski -- with a sickening sensation in our stomachs, we realize that the joke isn't on K.C. Calden; the joke's on us, the paying audience.

Or maybe the joke's on Harrison Ford. Ford's been a personal favorite ever since he burst onto the scene as cocky mercenary Han Solo in Star Wars, but at this stage in his career, there's no way to defend his choices anymore. A fine actor who once felt comfortable enough to stretch himself (see The Mosquito Coast, for starters), Ford has long given up even trying to make movies that matter, preferring instead to churn out generic films that don't even allow him to play heroes but rather shadows of heroes. While superstars like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and even Mel Gibson continue to challenge themselves with risky roles and risky projects, Ford is content to collect hefty paychecks for below-par projects and wallow in mid-life crisis mode. His claim a few years ago that he was interested in cutting-edge fare was nothing but smoke-blowing, as witnessed by the fact that he was offered -- and eventually turned down -- a prominent role in Steven Soderbergh's Oscar-winning Traffic (Michael Douglas, no stranger to daring films, took the part instead).

In Hollywood Homicide, Ford simply looks tired and bored. As Joe Gavilan, a veteran cop who's assigned alongside his young partner K.C. to investigate the murders of four rap musicians, he occasionally tries to bring a light touch to the proceedings, but the sharp comic timing he exhibited in his earlier pictures (most notably Working Girl) just isn't there. Still, he's better than stiff co-star Hartnett, a current Next Big Thing who, if there's any justice, will be a Where Are They Now? before the decade's out. Not that either actor is helped by the paint-by-numbers profiling of their characters. Ford's Gavilan is a gruff career cop with several failed marriages; he eats greasy cheeseburgers on the job, downs hard liquor after hours, and barks at everybody around him. Hartnett's Calden is a sensitive, fresh-faced kid who doesn't eat meat, tries to avoid violence, and, as a yoga practitioner, constantly tries to "center" himself during moments of crisis. You want more? One of the villains behind the rap slayings also just happens to be the guy who killed Calden's dad many years earlier, and the woman that Gavilan is currently bedding -- a radio show psychic played by Lena Olin -- also just happens to be the ex-wife of the Internal Affairs grunt (Bruce Greenwood) presently investigating Gavilan. Are they kidding with this stuff?

Director-cowriter Ron Shelton, a long way from the career high point of Bull Durham, and co-scripter Robert Souza, a former cop who served as consultant on Shelton's recent flop Dark Blue, have crammed the picture with the sort of forced comedy generally found in bad Nora Ephron movies. The most lamentable running gag -- next to Hartnett's acting aspiration -- finds Gavilan working a second job as a realtor, which leads to countless scenes in which his police work is interrupted by his ringing cell phone, at which point he takes time out from, say, arresting a suspect or chasing a criminal to try to hammer out a deal over the phone. I don't think I'm alone in believing that a ringing cell phone -- especially one that plays a tune -- is one of the most annoying sounds to spring out of modern civilization, and hearing Gavilan's damn contraption go off repeatedly throughout the film isn't exactly the best way to draw an audience into the picture. Then again, neither is the scene in which Calden commandeers a car for a high-speed chase while the passengers, a terrified mom and her two hysterical kids, are shrieking their heads off, convinced they're going to die. Har har, indeed.

With the comic quotient a no-go, the picture needs some killer action sequences to serve as its saving grace, but you don't get any here. Besides the climactic chase sequence that truly does seem to go on forever, the rest of the supposedly adrenaline-pumping pieces are clumsily staged and rarely exciting -- and matters aren't helped by the fact that even Stevie Wonder could see that it's not Harrison Ford but rather his stunt double handling the duties during the more arduous moments.

Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, the sequel to 1994's Dumb and Dumber, also opened this past weekend; having despised its predecessor, I elected to pass over it. In hindsight, though, maybe I picked the wrong movie to skip. After all, it's hard to believe anything could be more witless than Hollywood Homicide.

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