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TRAINING DAY (director: Antoine Fuqua; screenwriter: David Ayer; cinematographer: Mauro Fiore; editor: Conrad Buff; cast: Denzel Washington (Alonzo Harris), Ethan Hawke (Jake Hoyt), Scott Glenn (Roger), Macy Gray (Sandman’s Wife), Tom Berenger (Stan), Cliff Curtis (Smiley), Dr. Dre (Paul), Snoop Dogg (Sammy), Eva Mendes (Sara), Charlotte Ayanna (Lisa Hoyt); Runtime: 120; Warner Brothers Pictures; 2001)
“It was just too much slime to take in for one day, as somewhere after the first half of the film the shock scenes simply wore off and the film lost any dramatic effect.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another obviously contrived crime film with black and white partner cops, as part of its formula. This one is set in modern LA and filled with pointless violence, and with nothing relevant to say about its dirty cop subject matter. It would have been just another entertaining film that was eye-catching, amusing, and filled with non-stop action but for the last fifteen minutes, when the film fell apart and came up with a very unsound ending and ruined any chance for it to be appreciated just for Denzel Washington’s fine performance. The way it ended made no sense, as this smorgasbord in violence had gangs of blacks, Mexicans, and even Russians, interact with corrupt city law enforcers. The filmmaker chooses the craziest and most unbelievable way for the dirty cop to get his comeuppance.

The white cop is an ambitious rookie who is on the force for only 19 months, Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke). He dreams of being a detective and doesn’t want to blow his chances on his training day to get permanently assigned to an elite undercover narc unit that busts the big-time drug dealers and will give him a chance to be the good guy collaring the bad drug dealers, so he kisses up to his superior. The job promises action and many arrests, things the young athletic cop relishes. Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) is the leader of five other police officers, and he will determine if Jake is trustworthy after this one day of training.

Denzel has the role of the dirty cop who has all the smart answers for why he’s so set on his vigilante ways. In his bogus philosophy, he tells Jake “It takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” He goes on to say that in this business “You’ve got to decide, Are you a wolf or a sheep.” He’s the mentor of the innocent, incorruptible, straight-laced cop, who wants to save his city from drug dealers and bring home an honest paycheck to pay for a suburban lifestyle for his wife and kid. Denzel gives an over the top performance, taking his slimy character down a rotten path of greed, corruption, and murder. For Denzel, this is a chance for him to show off how he could be cast against type as the heavy and still be charismatic. If anything, this pic shows that he’s up to being a baddie. He’s dressed for the part wearing a gang-style black leather jacket and having draped around his neck enough jewelry, including a diamond crucifix, to please any hip-hop enthusiast. He’s also up to the physical nature of the role as he gives a muscular performance, and he is able to talk the street-talk with the best of them.

To start their unorthodox training day, there is no police roll call to answer to as Alonzo meets him in a coffee shop. It becomes apparent that Alonzo doesn’t follow the book, as he plays mind games with Jake and plants the seeds that you either do things my way or it’s back to hum-drum police work with no promotions in sight. Jake is too tempted by the action to leave but, when he watches Alonzo steal drugs that some college kids just bought from a snitch dealer, he begins to have second thoughts. The slick Alonzo, using his vintage souped-up black Monte Carlo as an office — forcefully induces the trainee to smoke pot laced with PCP by threatening to not accept him into his unit if he doesn’t and by taunting him into believing that if he doesn’t know what pot tastes like how could he be a narc. That would endanger his life in the street. “Training Day” has now tainted its hero and made its statement of what it thinks of undercover work, and now the kid must fight his ambitions and see if he can remain steadfast in what he believes.

The action-packed day continues with a social call to a jaded top drug dealer who was a former colleague of Alonzo’, Roger (Scott Glenn), who wishfully talks about retiring to an island as the drugged-out Jake tries to tune into what’s going on; there’s a visit to a bad black ghetto that the thugs run, where Alonzo has underhanded deals with the gang leaders who secretly hate him because he’s abusive. He lives here with his secret family–a sexy ho’ from El Salvador (Eva Mendes). They also encounter an attempted street rape on a young Mexican girl that Alonzo wishes to ignore but Jake can’t–which leads to Alonzo working the two attackers over instead of arresting them; there’s a funny scene of the cops searching a drug house after faking a warrant in order to steal the drug money; there’s a restaurant business meeting with corrupt city officials, and all the while Jake is being bullied and forced to react in shock and dismay. It was just too much slime to take in for one day, as somewhere after the first half of the film the shock scenes simply wore off and the film lost any dramatic effect; it just looked cartoonish. By the time Jake is asked to cover-up a murder, the film has lost itself in its excesses.

But the twists in plot kept coming, and it took us down a seedier and more improbable path. It seemed likely that Jake would have gotten off this crooked job offer faster, if this film had wanted to achieve anything resembling reality. The aim was obviously not realism, but to take the story into its own interpretation of the corruption in the LAPD. To its credit, it points out widespread violence and corruption, including black-on-black crime, police frames, and the ugliness on the streets. But the film’s major failure is that it fails to say anything revealing about such abuses.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”