CLINT EASTWOOD needs a hit. ''The Rookie'' may do it for him.
The new film could put Eastwood back in the running, but if it does, it won't be because it's a great movie. It's not. It's a messy, silly thing, but once it is on the road, it doesn't stop. You may even find it amusing now and then. You may also laugh when you are not supposed to, but you won't be looking at your watch.
Charlie Sheen is Eastwood's co-star. This is a meaningful piece of casting. Sheen is on the rise. Eastwood, meanwhile, has been coming down. What better way to rebuild some of the Eastwood following?
In ''The Rookie,'' Eastwood plays Nick Pulovski, a plainclothes detective working in the grand theft auto division of the Los Angeles police department. When his partner dies in the line of duty, he is replaced by David Ackerman (Sheen), who hardly comes from a background that produces cops. Brokers, yes. Cops, no.
Ackerman's father is super wealthy, so why is David working as a cop? Well, he seems to have this guilt about his brother's death. They were kids when it happened. He wasn't responsible. There was nothing he could do, but he continues to blame himself.
When Pulovski and Ackerman begin to work together, the older guy kids the younger. There is nothing novel about this, but it does help move the film along.
The pair's immediate quarry is Strom (Raul Julia), who masterminds a car-theft ring. Strom's girlfriend is Leisel, played by Sonia Braga, and when someone does a book on the most villainous women ever portrayed on the screen, Leisel will be among them.
Her trouble, however, is that she is funny, and the trouble with this movie is that much of the time it is comic book. If you can accept that, you're in for a good time after the first 30 minutes. During that first half hour, we have to suffer the usual car chases and wreckage, and in this film, it is considerable.
In the end, we even have a plane chase and collision, and again, the wreckage is mountainous. We can always hope these were miniatures or mock-up planes.
Part of the fun in watching the film is knowing what is coming. ''The Rookie'' doesn't hesitate to use all the old gimmicks. When the cops and the villains meet for their last shootout, at the airport, we know where the victims will fall, and when the younger cop goes into a cleaning establishment, we know what we will see when the clothing bags move along on the automated rack.
''The Rookie'' also has a few new twists. We do have to give it that. We also have to admit that the scriptwriters amuse when they recycle certain lines and situations.
''The Rookie'' plays mostly in the dark, but then you wouldn't want bright, sharp photography for a plot as sinister as this. You might, however, ask for a little less foolishness, even for a film that works so closely to James Bond. At one point, the younger cop is shot in the back under very understandable conditions, but that doesn't stop one of his superiors from referring to him as ''yellow.''
There are other things just as silly, and ''The Rookie'' is not above having people shoot at each other and repeatedly miss, simply because the producers of this film want to prolong the shootouts.
Eastwood directed the film. We hope he had a comic-book thriller in mind.
''The Rookie'' has its principal characters frequent biker bars and witness dog fights, and toward close the lead actors engage in some particularly spectacular stunts. The film opens here today.
''The Rookie'' gereg,8.5,8.5
** A veteran policeman and his much younger partner pursue members of a car-theft ring.
CAST: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga, Tom Skerritt
DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood
RATING: R (violence, sex, language)
RUNNING TIME: Two hours