"Hollywood Homicide" is a sly satire of buddy-cop action-comedies that replicates the genre's trappings so precisely many moviegoers will mistake it for a genuinely bad buddy-cop action-comedy.
The vaguely ridiculous title and overtly assembly-line plot all by themselves had me dreading the press screening. A handsome, aging, grumpy detective (Harrison Ford) in a wise-cracking reluctant partnership with a handsome rookie detective (Josh Hartnett), both of whom are way out of their depths investigating the gunning down of a rap group in a hip-hop club? Talk about knee-deep in Hollywood pig slop.
But writer-director Ron Shelton ("Tin Cup," "Bull Durham") -- who wrote this film just after completing his for-hire helming of the genuinely cliché-riddled L.A. cop drama "Dark Blue" -- embraces this ostensible triteness and reshapes it into comedy of the absurd without being conspicuously ironic or self-aware. "Hollywood Homicide" is often authentically slapdash, shallow and hackneyed because its mockery of Hollywood's pre-fabricated blockbuster mentality is meant to sneak up on you.
Ford shows surprisingly nuanced comedy chops playing an over-the-hill, 50-something fuddy-duddy who is, of course, a good cop who is bad at life. He's a many-times-divorced hard drinker who is dating the holistic radio-psychic ex-girlfriend (Lena Olin) of a bitter rival from Internal Affairs (Bruce Greenwood) -- who was already out to get Ford for supposedly "co-mingling funds." That is to say, he can suspiciously afford to pay for three alimonies, two private college tuitions and a nice house on his cop salary and what little money he makes moonlighting as an inept real estate agent who learned his trade at "too many airport hotel seminars."
Often trying to sell property while on duty, Ford's cell phone is constantly ringing to the tune of "My Girl" by the Temptations (which becomes a running gag along with Hartnett's phone ringing the chorus of Lipps, Inc.'s "Funky Town"). In fact, during an interrogation at the scene of the shooting, the club owner (Master P) mentions that he's house hunting, and Ford drops his bad-cop routine to offer the guy a business card.
Hartnett's meditative, shaggy-haired greenhorn gumshoe isn't any better at life than his partner. As a part-time yoga instructor (Shelton finds a lot of humor in the fact that many police officers have supplemental careers), he sleeps with a lot of his students but can never remember their names. His skills as a cop are even more questionable -- the guy can't even shoot straight. But nevermind all that -- what he really wants to do is break in to acting. That may explain why during a chase scene Hartnett jumps off a balcony in a mall, expecting a canopied vendor cart break to his fall -- like in the movies. It doesn't work. Ouch.
The movie's hit-and-miss plot is appropriately packed with over-scripted coincidences (the main henchman for the record executive bad guy is a corrupt ex-cop who may have killed Hartnett's cop father). Opportunities for I'm-getting-too-old-for-this-s**t jokes are rarely passed up ("If I take my ginkgo," japes Ford, "I can still remember where I put my Viagra.") And guns fire more bullets than they can hold (during a shootouts, Ford tries to count spent rounds on his fingers).
Every few scenes there's another pointless cameo too. But blink and you'll miss, say, Eric Idle arrested for solicitation or Lou Diamond Phillips in drag. It's just Shelton making fun of Hollywood in-jokes. (Pay really close attention and you might even notice the same actress plays two roles -- one as Blanche to Hartnett's Stanley Kowalski in a bad community theater production of "A Streetcar Named Desire.")
If you're not tuned in to Shelton's crafty fillet of formula, "Hollywood Homicide" might come off like a weak "Lethal Weapon" rip-off (the inevitable high-speed-chase finale includes a mid-air flip-over car crash, live L.A. traffic-copter TV coverage, and both Ford and Hartnett hijacking vehicles from unsuspecting bystanders). Yet the picture is mirthfully entertaining in its deliberate superficiality, and in its two stars' deliberately out-of-sync antagonistic chemistry and comedic timing.
The only question is, will people get the joke?