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‘Black and Blue’ a meandering misfire

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There’s something admirable about a filmmaker wanting to tackle larger social issues through their craft. Making a movie that offers salient commentary on the world is certainly a worthwhile endeavor and almost always springs from good intentions.

But the leap from intention to execution can be tricky … and you’re not always going to stick the landing.

And that’s the story of “Black and Blue” in a nutshell. Director Deon Taylor has a history of incorporating a message into his entertainments, with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, this time it doesn’t quite land. He’s a skillful filmmaker and he’s working with a talented cast, but he’s ultimately unable to present his ideas with the nuance necessary to make them work.

Reducing big ideas to manageable size is vital in these situations, but you also must be careful not to oversimplify. In their efforts to strike the balance, the filmmakers went too far, rendering complicated issues in a manner that borders on the ham-handed. A noble effort, but one that never quite gels.

Alicia West (Naomie Harris, “Rampage”) is a rookie cop on the New Orleans police force. She’s only recently returned to her hometown, having joined the military at 17 in an effort to escape the future that she saw for herself if she stayed. She’s still learning the ropes, thanks to her amiable partner Kevin (Reid Scott, TV’s “Veep”), but she’s holding up well … even when she occasionally runs into folks she knew from the neighborhood. Folks who have their reasons for not trusting the police. Folks who think she’s a traitor for taking up the badge.

When Alicia agrees to pick up an overnight shift as a favor to Kevin, she winds up riding with veteran officer Deacon Brown (James Moses Black, “Cut Off”). During their shift, Brown gets a call; the two drive to an abandoned factory on the outskirts of town. He tells her to stay in the car, but she eventually follows him in. There, she sees him with narcotics detectives Terry Malone (Frank Grillo, “Into the Ashes”) and Smitty (Beau Knapp, “American Skin”) – and watches as Malone executes a drug dealer.

And her body camera recorded the whole thing.

Alicia flees, with the three in hot pursuit. They all know that the contents of that camera will put them all in prison, so they will stop at nothing to get it back from her. It’s not long before Alicia realizes that these three are far from the only dirty cops in the department, meaning that she has no idea who on the force she can trust.

Left with nowhere else to turn, she asks Milo (Tyrese Gibson, “The Fate of the Furious”), an old acquaintance from the neighborhood, for help. And she needs it, because not only is Malone after her, he has pinned the murder on her, drawing the unwanted attention of local kingpin Darius (Mike Colter, TV’s “Evil”).

Alicia’s sole goal becomes to survive long enough to upload her camera footage and make sure that the cadre of compromised cops is brought to justice. But with both of her communities – past and present – turning their backs on her, achieving that goal might be beyond her grasp.

“Black and Blue” should be better than it is. It’s an action thriller with little action and fewer thrills, derivative and a little dull. As for the messaging, it’s true that a movie could have a lot of valuable things to say about the state of race relations and the dynamic between law enforcement personnel and the citizens they’re tasked with protecting. A movie could … but not this movie.

These issues are rarely acknowledged in the first three-quarters of the film; we slog through an hour-and-a-half of mediocre cop thriller before the “important” messaging gets shoehorned into the last 25 minutes or so. As such, it feels abrupt and unearned, a square peg jammed into a round hole. Again, there’s room for social strata and police corruption to be discussed in movies, but this largely plays like a tone-deaf misfire. It’s riddled with formulaic clichés, the sort of film that feels familiar despite the fact that you’ve never seen it before. There’s nothing new here.

Harris is undeniably talented. And she does what she can with what she’s given; it’s a solid performance, mingling anger and desperation and fear. Gibson takes a surprisingly engaging turn as Milo; he’s never going to be a great actor, but he’s pretty good here. Grillo has made a career playing basically this dude; he doesn’t let us down. Colter is suitably menacing; Scott the right amount of aw-shucks. Really, the whole cast performs admirably – they’re just let down by the script.

“Black and Blue” isn’t a bad movie. It just can’t say everything that it’s trying to say or be everything that it’s trying to be. Using genre films to speak to societal ills has been a thing ever since there have been movies, but it doesn’t always work. And this time, it didn’t. The effort is worth applauding, but in this case, the reach far exceeds the grasp.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 October 2019 06:43

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