Dir: Ron Shelton. US. 2002. 113mins.

Dark Blue is the first Hollywood film to fully take on board the shameful case of Rodney King, the black motorist who was savagely beaten by four LA traffic cops in 1991. The King beating and the riots that were unleashed a year later when an all-white jury found the four cops not guilty, open and close the film, and provide a much-needed bassline for this potentially arid story of corruption and conscience among Hollywood's favourite blue: the LAPD. Dark Blue's US release date has been pushed back from last autumn to Feb 21, allowing other territories - such as Italy, where CDI distributes the film this week, Jan 17 - to open the film before its home run. Kurt Russell's persuasive tussle with the title role of the rotten cop saved by an 11th-hour crisis of conscience will be the main attraction for US audiences, although the association of James Ellroy with the project (based on an Ellroy treatment, it was worked up by Training Day scripter David Ayer) should also carry kudos. But LA Confidential this is not, and the film's prospects both at home and away will be let down by its not infrequent lapses into schmaltz.

With a script like this, where elements such as cop buddies and departmental love interest come with the territory, it is all about how well such cliches are freshened up. Averagely well, is the answer. Dark Blue is not so much good cop, bad cop as fresh cop, jaded cop.

After the King footage, Shelton cuts straight to an internal police hearing where novice Bobby Keough (Speedman) is charged with 'dropping' an armed suspect without sufficient cause. With the help of his trigger-happy partner Eldon Perry (Russell) and the look-after-our-own attitude of the police tribunal, Bobby breezes through to an acquittal. But the audience soon realise that corporate protectionism is the least of this particular department's sins; and it becomes a case of seeing how much dirty work the hard-bitten Perry can be forced to do - and in turn force his younger partner to do - before either one of them snaps. Eventually, Perry's conscience kicks in like a bad hangover.

Russell's small-eyed jowliness is a blank expanse of wet clay on which the audience carve the emotions that are suggested by the script: this is exactly why he is so good in a role like this. The others do no more than provide the necessary support, although Brendan Gleeson's performance as the utterly depraved departmental boss demands respect.

Barry Peterson's cinematography takes its cue from the title, filtering out the reds and yellows to give a moody look, while the soundtrack alternates cheesy TV muzak - which is not blaxploitation enough to work - with hadcore rap from NWA, Cypress Hill and others. The film's would-be badass attitude, though, is undermined by some corny scenes between Perry and his wife and by the disappointingly soft-focus ending. In the end, the main problem with Dark Blue is that it is not dark enough.

Prod co: United Artists, Intermedia, IM Filmproduktion, Alphaville, Cosmic Pictures
Int'l sales:
Exec prods:
Moritz Borman, Guy East, Nigel Sinclair
Caldecot Chubb, David Blocker, Sean Daniel, Jim Jacks
David Ayer from a story by James Ellroy
Barry Peterson
Prod des:
Dennis Washington
Paul Seydor
Music: Terence Blanchard
Main cast:
Kurt Russell, Scott Speedman, Ving Rhames, Michael Michele, Brendan Gleeson, Lolita Davidovich