March 03, 2003 12:00 PM

Kurt Russell, Ving Rhames, Michael Michele, Scott Speedman

Big-city cop dramas are done so often and so well as TV series these days that a movie covering the same territory—race relations, corruption, urban violence, officers sleeping with officers—needs to clear a mighty high bar. Dark Blue, directed by Ron Shelton (Tin Cup), gives it a good shot but doesn’t make it over.

It’s 1991, and the Rodney King trial is nearing a verdict. Eldon Perry (Russell), a hard-drinking veteran L.A. police detective who’s given to shooting unarmed suspects, is showing the ropes to his rookie partner (Speedman). Think of this as Training Day: White & Lite. Indeed, both films were written by David Ayer, though Blue is based on a story by crime novelist James Ellroy.

Blue never jells, lurching from scene to scene. But the movie does give the always watchable Russell, now fuller of jaw and with a squint to rival Clint Eastwood’s, a chance to prove yet again what a dependable actor he is (albeit a minor rather than major leaguer). Rhames, as an ethical officer looking to bring Perry down, glowers through his too-few scenes. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: Less than arresting

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