Sony // 2005 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 14th, 2006
Violence is a language people understand.
If you've seen Colors, and you've seen Narc, and you've seen Training Day, you've already seen Dirty -- only better. Writer/director Chris Fisher plumbs the shallow depths of corrupt-cop-partner movies past without offering us anything new; it knows the words and the music, but so what? Every moment in the movie feels recycled from other, better movies, from the dirty-cop-with-wandering-hands scene (best left to heavier hitters Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton in Crash) to a climactic game of Russian roulette (which one of the main actors has even played on screen before, with the same success). Been there. Seen that. Don't care.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry McGuire) and Clifton Collins, Jr. (so good in the recent Capote) star as two former gang members who belong to a corrupt unit of the LAPD, devoted just as much to getting crime off the streets as they are to stealing, killing, and drug trafficking. After Collins and Gooding are involved in the shooting death of an innocent man, they're subject to an Internal Affairs investigation; unbeknownst to the department (headed by captain Keith David of They Live, oozing cartoonish sleaze), Collins considers cooperating. The rest of the film takes place over the course of a single day, as the two officers attempt to pull off a drug deal for the department and find themselves in the employ of a notorious gangster (The Fugees' Wyclef Jean) -- who we recognize as a bad guy (even worse guy?) because he has an accent and wears a white suit.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Dirty is that there's not a single character to root for. That's ok -- I'm a big boy and can handle movies that aren't about likeable people -- but Dirty doesn't even provide a viable antihero. It's not just that these guys don't generate any sympathy; they don't generate any interest, either. There's nothing captivating about their darkness or corruption. Movies like Narc and Training Day were just as effective as character studies as they were police dramas, probably because we had a ballast as viewers -- a vessel into the dark places those movies went (Jason Patric and Ethan Hawke, respectively). Dirty piles one ugly character on top of the next. Only Clifton Collins stands a chance of grounding all the tough guy posturing, but he's all glower and silence -- we learn nothing about him but the fact that he's tortured -- maybe. The movie's second half loses interest in even that character detail. There's not even a sense of dramatic structure -- no slow descent or reveal of the characters' corruption. This is a film that starts in the sewer and just stays there.
Of greatest potential interest to audiences of Dirty is the against-type casting of America's favorite acceptance speech-giver, Cuba Gooding, Jr. Well, you can certainly feel the actor desperately trying to "stretch" -- to shed his nice guy image and gain the same credibility that Training Day brought Denzel Washington -- but he doesn't quite pull it off. Unfortunately -- and I suppose Gooding should take this as a compliment -- he's too likeable to play this unlikable, and the whole thing feels like an obvious pose. Gooding's dialogue doesn't help; writer/director Fisher's idea of "gritty" talk consists of nothing more than having the actor alternate between a certain racial epithet and the f-bomb (take that, Snow Dogs!). It's a show off-y role in a show off-y movie, and it's only in the film's second half that Gooding finds his way as an actor and the performance starts to mean something. By then, it might be too late.
As a film that's more interested in visuals and sound design than it is plot, dialogue, or performance, Dirty is well served by Sony's new DVD. The movie is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1; it's a pretty flawless transfer that really highlights DP Elliot Rockett's slick, over-saturated photography (it owes more than a little to the current style of Tony Scott, and can't get out of its own way). The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is the real star of the DVD, thanks to a bass-thumping rap score, a handful of crackerjack gunshots, and some inventive spook-surround effects (as Collins' character slips further into moral decay, he's haunted by visions of past sins); it might just be the only thing worth recommending about the disc. Sony has also included subtitles for the movie in no less than seven languages. Dirty will bring the world together.
Writer/director Chris Fisher (Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders) is joined by cinematographer Rockett for an audio commentary, and it makes sense -- Rockett's stamp on the movie is just as indelible as (if not more than) Fisher's. Their talk is on the dry side, favoring production history and technical comments; it's not bad, but it is of extremely limited interest. There are a few deleted scenes included, most of which are just short character bits and add-ons (though one excised moment, involving the revisiting of a white couple from earlier in the film, is a total disaster and wisely left out) that don't contribute much. Rounding out the special features are a featurette from the premiere comprised mostly of cast and crew interviews, a short featurette on breakdancing and skateboarding (two activities that, while seen in the movie, have nothing to do with it and smack of shameless pandering to a young demographic), a music video, and some bonus trailers.
I suppose there's an audience for Dirty, even if I'm not it. Folks who are big enough fans of the other films mentioned that they'll rabidly consume any close approximation -- even a poor imitation -- might take something out of it. I recognize that that's hardly a recommendation. It isn't supposed to be. My actual recommendation would be to skip Dirty and just watch Narc again. That, or Snow Dogs.
Review content copyright © 2006 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "Gettin' Dirty" Premiere Featurette
* "Chump" Music Video by Oh No
* Skateboarding/Breakdancing Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Chris Fisher and Cinematographer Eliot Rockett
* Bonus Trailers
* Official Site