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BLOOD WORK (director: Clint Eastwood; screenwriters: from a novel by Michael Connelly/Brian Helgeland; cinematographer: Tom Stern; editor: Joel Cox; music: Lennie Niehaus; cast: Clint Eastwood (Terry McCaleb), Wanda De Jesus (Graciela Rivers), Jeff Daniels (Buddy Noone), Anjelica Huston (Dr. Bonnie Fox), Tina Lifford (Detective Jaye Winston), Mason Lucero (Raymond), Dylan Walsh (Detective Waller), Paul Rodriguez (Detective Arrango), P.J. Byrne (Forensics Officer), Alix Koromzay (Mrs. Cordell), Igor Jijikine (Russian Convict); Runtime: 110; Warner Bros./Malpaso; 2002)
“Solid enough entertainment for a summer blockbuster that comes via a familiar serial killer story, and is told in a dead-pan old-fashioned way police stories were once told.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Solid enough entertainment for a summer blockbuster that comes via a familiar serial killer story, and is told in a dead-pan old-fashioned way police stories were once told. Its success is mainly due to a good supporting cast and Clint Eastwood’s easy-going but no-nonsense approach to a role he has often played and is naturally good at. Nothing new here, the camera is static and without the more elaborate jump cuts most modern directors now use. The 72-year-old Clint Eastwood produced, directed (this the 23rd he’s directed) and starred (44th film he starred in) in this by now too often seen story of a serial killer needing the cop as his unwilling partner to act out his sick fantasy. Blood Work, a title that smartly offers the biggest clue about the killer, goes along at a fine pace until the last twenty minutes when it falls on its face and the film does’t know how to close its serial killer case gracefully.

Eastwood is into being the old codger he has become in all his recent films. Here he makes fun of the pale way he looks, all the medication he must take, his former tough-guy action roles and his current geriatric movements. He looks the camera right in the eye proudly showing off his craggy and wrinkled face, and his cosmetically scarred body. But he can’t let it go at that and still has to end up sleeping with the much younger woman co-star and engaging in an heroic confrontation with the killer. Old habits die hard.

The film opens as LA-based celebrity FBI profiler Terry McCaleb (Eastwood) enters the bloody crime scene and is being harassed by Detective Arrago (Paul Rodriguez), an unfunny Mexican loudmouth who makes jokes about the murder and thinks he’s as funny as Don Rickles is when making with the insults and ethnic barbs. He’s jealous of McCaleb because the FBI man gets the credit for the high profile cases solved, when he feels the credit should go to the local police. Scrawled in blood on the wall over the vic’s death bed, is an undetermined phone number. The killer has been dubbed the “Code Killer” because he leaves coded number clues after each murder. In this incident, the killer asks McCaleb to call the number on the wall. It is his effort to goad McCaleb and show how much smarter he is than the top-notch profiler. Outside when facing the press, McCaleb spots the killer present in the crowd of onlookers through his basketball sneakers (whose footprints were found at the crime scene) and gives chase. But his advanced age shows as he can’t catch up and he gets struck down by a heart attack. When the killer returns to see if he’s dead, McCaleb has enough gas in his tank to put a slug in him. There are no more serial killings since, as McCaleb figured he might have gotten him.

McCaleb’s forced to retire from a job that’s been his whole life and it leaves the workaholic with an empty feeling. After two years of waiting, McCaleb receives a heart-transplant. His cynical and always grumpy cardiologist, Dr. Fox (Anjelica Huston), acts concerned about his recovery and always seems to be giving him check-ups to look at the scar on his chest. When not doing that she acts as his cheerleader. She tells him that he deserves this heart, as he frets over why the youngster in the next room of the hospital doesn’t get one before him. This concern shown by him makes him look like a good guy, as if the viewer had any doubts that this unorthodox cop could be anything else but that. Huston’s small throwaway part wastes her talents.

It turns out McCaleb had to wait that long because he has a rare blood type, and when a young Mexican woman named Gloria was killed in a convenience store stickup — he at last is fortunate to get her ticker. He finds this out when her waitress sister visits his houseboat. She tells him the LA police have given her the runaround in the murder investigation and she desperately needs his help. When he’s reluctant to take the case and work without a badge, she tells him that he should just follow what his heart tells him to do. Physically unable to take the case he nevertheless takes it because he feels sorry for her that she has to now take care of her sister Gloria’s sweet young boy Raymond (Mason Lucero), he feels indebted to Gloria for saving his life, and he’s glad that he’s working again because it makes him feel “connected.”

The arrogant and indifferent to the crime victims LA detectives, Arragon and his less hostile sidekick Waller, think that the ski-masked killer who robbed $32 from the register and was captured on the store video, is a two-time loser and killed only to avoid a life sentence if identified by witnesses. Meanwhile McCaleb with the help of the deadbeat owner of the houseboat docked next to him, Buddy Noone (Daniels), attempt to track down the killer through the various clues the police have given him. Buddy acts as his designated driver, as a babysitter for Raymond and as sort of his oddball helper, and adds a bit of strange and dumb comedy to the mix. There’s also an old friend McCaleb helped get promoted in the county sheriff’s department a black woman, Jaye Winston (Lifford), who goes out of her way to provide him with needed police reports.

The film has a surprise hook, which might catch some offguard. The most fun it provided was guessing who did it. Despite the twist in it, I found it easier to guess than most Charlie Chan whodunit mystery tales. But Clint tried harder, and must get an A for effort. He seemed to be aiming to make this more of a character study than a blood-chilling mystery, but the film in whatever way you look at it doesn’t unearth anything important.

Blood Work’s heart is in the right place, but the heart metaphors seem strained and the film looks flat as if it could have been a made-for-cable product. The script was formed from Michael Connelly’s novel by Brian Helgeland, whose adaptation of “L.A. Confidential” justifiably received high marks. This one is not in the same league. But if you’re a Clint fan, you should be pleased with the way the aging star can still handle himself. It follows along the “Dirty Harry” trail, with traces of all his other tough-guy persona films leaving their mark somewhere on this marginally successful Eastwood type of formulaic film.

The diverse ethnic casting decisions are a case of Clint applying his nose to the box office for just the right demographic mix to appeal to the most ticket buyers. There’s no argument he still knows how to sell his mainstream product, and the product he offers is still watchable. Also, his nod to the old way of making films, seems to be chiding the young filmmakers for all their digital and CGI efforts.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”