The thin blue whine

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Hollywood director Ron Shelton is dwelling in cop-land these days.

"Hollywood Homicide" centers on two Los Angeles Police Department detectives handling a multiple-murder case. And if you watch closely, you'll see a 30-second scene with a scruffy repo man played by Kurt Russell, who starred in Mr. Shelton's previous - and far better - crime drama, "Dark Blue."

When a filmmaker moves repeatedly into the same territory, one assumes it's because he or she has something to say about the subject. Not so long ago, Shelton showed a consistent interest in sports, directing a string of athlete-centered pictures from "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump" to "Cobb" and "Tin Cup." I'm no big fan of these, but it's clear Shelton was well acquainted with this playing field and was eager to explore angles left fallow by traditional movies.

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Can we say the same for his newfound fascination with police? "Dark Blue" suggested the answer was yes, presenting a riveting portrait of two LAPD officers - a jaded veteran and an idealistic rookie.

"Hollywood Homicide" has a strikingly similar setup, following a longtime detective (Harrison Ford) and a relatively naive newcomer (Josh Hartnett) as they tackle a case - the nightclub killing of an entire rap group - that carries racial and cultural overtones.

Its sociological aspects also recall "Dark Blue," depicting a Los Angeles in transition from its bygone days as capital of an entertainment empire to its current status as a grubby battleground for petty businesses. None of which is probed effectively this time around.

Lacking the real-world connections that lent "Dark Blue" much of its power - its background was an imminent verdict in the Rodney King beating trial - the screenplay for "Hollywood Homicide" tries for added oomph by distracting the main characters from their main line of work.

Both of the cops are moonlighters, one dabbling in real estate while the other dreams of a big-time acting career. This lends overstated irony to scene after scene, with Mr. Ford mumbling prices into a cellphone and Mr. Hartnett rehearsing "A Streetcar Named Desire" even as they pursue bad guys.

This might have been amusing, and even revealing, if the movie showed real concern for the psychology of its heroes. What's behind their restless drive to make a mark in more than one profession? Subplots hint at intriguing answers: the older man's history of emotional and financial insecurity, the younger cop's vague longing for artistic achievement and spiritual growth.

But these angles are thumbtacked onto the movie like the afterthoughts they appear to be. Ditto for the story's social and ethnic dimensions. What the picture really cares about is gunfights, fistfights, and wild driving.

Despite its potentially rich material it's a quintessential summer movie, complete with moments of halfhearted romantic comedy (no longer Ford's forte, I'm sorry to report) and a climactic car-and-foot chase that had me squinting at my watch so often I needed to ask a companion for updates on who was catching up to whom. By the time it ended, I'd stopped caring.

I suspect most moviegoers will do the same. Here's hoping Shelton scurries back to the athletic world in a hurry.

Rated PG-13; contains violence, sex, and vulgar language.

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