Watching the Detectives 

Writer-director Ron Shelton’s gifts come through in Hollywood Homicide, despite some concessions to convention

Writer-director Ron Shelton’s gifts come through in Hollywood Homicide, despite some concessions to convention

In writer-director Ron Shelton’s action-comedy Hollywood Homicide, the title location is a dream in transition, a town losing its movie star glamour and beginning to cater to here-today/gone-tomorrow pop musicians. The opening credits cut together places that sport the name “Hollywood,” from the famous sign in the hills to the seediest motels; at the film’s climax, a character falls to his death into a Dumpster marked “Hollywood Waste.”

In between are countless moments of territorial conflict. Cops stand in the way of other cops; a rap impresario tries to buy a $6 million house from an aging movie producer; the airspace over Grauman’s Chinese Theater fills with dueling local-news helicopters. Even the cell-phone rings of the heroes draw lines: Joe Gavilan, the rumpled veteran detective played by Harrison Ford, has a phone that plays “My Girl,” while his spacey Gen-X partner K.C. Calden (played by Josh Hartnett) prefers “Funkytown.”

Both men work homicide by day and make some extra money at night, Calden by teaching yoga to pretty young women, and Gavilan by peddling real estate. Calden also wants to be an actor, while Gavilan just wants to get his three ex-wives off his back as he pursues his potential wife No. 4, a radio psychic played by Lena Olin. Their hobbies and outside interests draw an internal-affairs investigation headed up by Gavilan’s old rival, Bennie Macko (Bruce Greenwood), even as they attempt to solve a quadruple murder at a local rap club. The crime seems to point to a hip-hop label chief whose acts turn up dead at contract-renegotiation time.

Director Shelton’s overeagerness to cater to a mainstream audience sometimes brushes Hollywood Homicide with a layer of stale sweat. He has an unconventional approach to showing police legwork—much of it takes place over the phone—but he doesn’t do much with L.A. cop-genre standbys. His car chases and scenes of hulking gun-toters in underlit corridors look pretty much like everybody else’s, and they seem out of place in a story more suited to a thick, character-driven detective novel than an explosive buddy cop flick.

And yet Shelton maintains a guiding intelligence that makes his work worth watching, even when it’s heading in the wrong direction. He’s bright enough to know that we don’t need to spend half an hour watching Calden and Gavilan bicker as they get to trust each other, so he has them already partnered up when the movie begins. He also has a light touch with established stars that frames Ford and Hartnett about as likably as they’ve ever been. There’s a confidence and unpredictability to Shelton films like Bull Durham and Tin Cup that’s also evident in Hollywood Homicide. Unfortunately, there’s also an excess of plot and incident, and when the movie spins out of control, it frustrates those of us who get all the action we need watching Shelton’s finely drawn scenery.

—Noel Murray

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