The irony of calling a movie about compromised gentlemen of the New York City Police Department Brooklyn's Finest ain't exactly what you'd call subtle. But then neither is this heated-to-boiling melodrama, a sustained eruption of bullets flying, hookers hooking, and cops copping to all sorts of crappy behavior for reasons we're meant to think of as reasonable since they work one of NYC's meanest precincts. Tango (Don Cheadle), working undercover and bonding with a big-time drug dealer (Wesley Snipes), has burrowed in too far with the bad guys. Sal (Ethan Hawke), a Catholic who struggles with his conscience in the confessional booth, dabbles in dirty money to support his asthmatic wife (Lili Taylor) and their ever-expanding litter of kids. Burned-out Eddie (Richard Gere), a week away from retirement, awakens each morning with a slug of booze and thoughts of suicide. The appearance of smartphones suggests we're in the present; the set decor suggests Hill Street Blues. The pairing of Cheadle and Snipes begs a future in which we get to see these two power players together in something substantive.
Under the circumstances, even a stereotypical cop who loved doughnuts would have been welcome comic relief. But director Antoine Fuqua has no time for anything but pain; he's as obsessed with corruption as he was in his 2001 badge-and-gun opera Training Day, in which Hawke played a rookie on a steep learning curve. The script for Brooklyn's Finest comes from first-timer Michael C. Martin, who grew up in the Brooklyn projects. It's built of rigidly interlocking calamities, and the movie revels in the cartooniest details of street life. Ellen Barkin provides unexpected diversion in a madwoman cameo as the PD's brassiest brass. But otherwise the clichés keep coming. Wouldn't you know it, Eddie's favorite prostitute (Shannon Kane, her fine nekkid bod available for close inspection) has a heart of gold? Only in Brooklyn, kids, only in Brooklyn. C