Brutality overwhelms `Narc'

Cops are no better than the lowlifes

January 10, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

There's plenty of blood spilled, plenty of epithets shouted and a lot of cameras jittering all over the place in Narc, a movie obsessed with the incomprehensibly brutal double-life led by narcotics detectives often forced to work undercover alongside the very lowlifes they're supposed to be arresting.

The result is most assuredly unsettling, which is doubtless the effect writer-director Joe Carnahan was going for. But it also comes across as self-indulgent, in ways he probably didn't intend, bearing all the earmarks of a director so obsessed with the way his story is being told that he neglects to pay enough attention to the story itself.

Jason Patric could have stood being a little less soulfully conflicted as Nick Tellis, a narcotics detective all but drummed off the force after accidentally shooting a pregnant woman while chasing a suspect.

That lapse in judgment aside, he must be a pretty good cop, because he's brought back onboard when the investigation into a cop killing appears stalled for good; surely Nick, the thinking goes, can kick this investigation into gear.

For reasons that never exactly ring as reasonable, he's assigned to work alongside Henry Oak (Ray Liotta, reminding us how explosive an actor he can be), the dead cop's partner.

Oak's wound way too tight, so determined to get the bad guys that he's willing to ignore everything -- departmental rules, civil law or the rules of civilized society -- toward that end.

The juxtaposition is meant to be jarring, as the conflicted cop who's not sure he wants to keep doing what he does works alongside the morally righteous cop who may be getting a little too much of a thrill out of it all.

And so Tellis and Oak proceed with their investigation, rousting the druggies, scratching for clues and generally getting their hands dirty in every imaginable way.

Eventually it all boils down to a confrontation that's bloody beyond the point of dramatic effect, in service to a plot that's taken a few too many twists for anyone's good.

The whole thing is very graphic and frantic, complete with a story thread emphasizing how brutal it is being married to an undercover cop (Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco made the point far more effectively, with considerably less sturm und drang).

Some might find the whole thing exhilarating, but exhausting is more the word that comes to this man's mind.

Narc

Starring Jason Patric, Ray Liotta

Written and directed by Joe Carnahan

Released by Paramount Pictures

Rated R (Language, brutal violence, drug use)

Time 105 minutes

Sun Score: **1/2

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