THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Hollywood Homicide starts off with a terrific premise. Joe Gavilan (Harrison Ford) is a veteran in the homicide division, but is so bogged down in alimony debts that heís forced to make ends meet by selling real estate on the side. He dreams of making a big score and often interrupts (or capitalizes on) official police work to make business deals. Gavilan is teamed with a younger cop, K.C. Calden (Josh Hartnett), a yoga freak who dreams of quitting his job to pursue his fantasies of becoming an actor. The two are paired to investigate the murder of a rap group at a hip-hop nightclub, but find themselves distracted by their outside pursuits.

The early scenes capture the potential of that premise. The murder of the rap group has been orchestrated by the owner of their record label, a Suge Knight type named Sartain (played by Isaiah Washington). While investigating, Gavilan discovers that the club owner (Master P) is looking to buy a mansion, and there is coincidentally a big Hollywood producer (Martin Landau) who has one to sell. Each time Gavilan starts to get close to Sartain, his cell phone rings and he finds himself negotiating an offer. Meanwhile, K.C. figures that bumping into all these people in the entertainment business might get him a job, so he passes around scripts and head shots of himself.

Itís clear at this stage that Hollywood Homicide wants to be a comedy about desperation. Much as Hollywood (the real Hollywood) has become decayed, so have the careers of Gavilan and K.C. They dream of a bigger, more glamorous way of life. In many ways, they are not dissimilar to the stereotypical small-town girl who steps off a bus in Hollywood expecting to arrive in the land of celebrity dreams, only to find a low-rent area full of hookers and drugs. Both characters are stuck in a daily grind that leaves them unfulfilled.

Things start to go wrong when the movie introduces some subplots that intrude on whatís interesting. An internal affairs cop (Bruce Greenwood) hates Gavilan and tries to bring bogus criminal charges against him. If the movie ever explained what the guyís grudge was, it did so too fast for me to pick it up. The whole plot thread is unnecessary anyway. Thereís also a half-baked subplot about K.C.ís father Ė also a cop, albeit one who was murdered. Wouldnít you know it that his fatherís killer turns out to be connected to the murder of the rap group? This amazingly sloppy piece of screenwriting allows K.C. to get revenge, although the whole thing is such an afterthought that we never care one bit about it. Finally, there is Gavilanís girlfriend Ruby (Lena Olin), a radio psychic. In the middle of everything else, who has time for a pointless, non-essential romantic subplot that adds nothing to the movie?

All of these things compete with the main plot for space. Subsequently, nothing in Hollywood Homicide ever fully engaged me. The film slaps all these different elements together haphazardly. None of them get any kind of significant development, so by the end I just didnít care. In its attempt to stuff as much on screen as possible, the movie ends up being unsatisfying in every way. The mystery isnít compelling, the action is minimal (despite what the trailer and TV commercials would lead you to believe), the comedy is only sporadically funny. All in all, itís just a misguided project any way you cut it.

I think Hollywood Homicide wants to be a comedy deep down, and it might have been a good one had some of the flotsam and jetsam been stripped away. But thereís another problem Ė one that canít easily be overlooked. As much as I like Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett, they are badly miscast here, at least in relation to the movieís tone. Ford can be funny on-screen when heís momentarily breaking out of his usual seriousness; he is not, however, an especially gifted comic actor. The role needs someone who can hit the comedic notes of Gavilanís desperation: a Steve Martin or a Paul Giamatti perhaps. The talentless K.C., on the other hand, should be a hapless dreamer, as sure of his own star potential as others are sure of its complete absence. Hartnett gets some of that, but seems too intent on playing cool to ever make the character soar. Ben Affleck could have nailed this role. Itís clear that, despite the obvious inclination toward being a comedy, the movie wants to look like an action movie, hence the casting. But since there is far more comedy than action, writer/director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Canít Jump) should have cast accordingly.

There are moments in the film where you can see what might have been: a witty line of dialogue here, a clever concept there. Unfortunately, there arenít enough of those moments, and there are too many moments where everyone seems to be floundering to make the picture work. Because there are so many things going on all at once (none of them done more than superficially), I was left with the distinct impression that this was once a much longer movie, cut down for time but not for clarity. Is it possible that there are entire sequences on the cutting room floor that would have fleshed out any or all of the plot threads to the point where they were engaging? Perhaps only DVD will tell; if the Hollywood Homicide disc comes with dozens of deleted scenes, then we will know for sure if this film could have been much more than it is.

( out of four)

Hollywood Homicide is rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations and language. The running time is 1 hour and 51 minutes.

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