Director: Oren Moverman
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Ice Cube, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Foster, Ned Beatty, Cynthia Nixon, Robin Wright and Steve Buscemi
Running Time: 108 minutes
Fans of Notorious BIG may already be familiar with Rampart cops. Those who’ve seen Nick Broomfield’s Biggie And Tupac will know all about them. The alleged involvement of three L.A. police officers – at the time working night-time security for Death Row Records owner Suge Knight – in the shooting of Biggie was a smaller incident in a sprawling scandal that ripped through the L.A.P.D in the late ’90s when evidence planting, shootings, beating suspects and dealing drugs were all commonplace. By the time all the cases were cleared, the city of L.A. was down nearly $150 million.
In Rampart, Woody Harrelson plays a fictional version of one of the worst cops around the L.A. beat, Dave ‘Date Rape Dave’ Brown; a bigot, racist, sexist, chauvinist, misanthrope – all the words of his own daughter, Spiraling debts, a crumbling family life and a lengthy suspension following a very public beating lead Brown to put things straight the only way he knows how, by doing exactly what got him there in the first place.
Coming from the pen of James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia), a man who writes two things well, Los Angeles and Los Angeles cops, you’d be forgiven for having a moderately high expectation. Sadly, with Rampart, he bombs on just about every turn. Once a bastion of on-screen banter, Ellroy serves up dialogue without even a modicum of what he’s capable of. Lines like, “I’m not a racist, I hate everyone equally” and “I don’t cheat taxes…you can’t cheat on something you’ve never committed to”, would struggle to make even a bargain bin video game. In fact, for a better study of C.R.A.S.H cops, you’d be better served getting out your PS2 and dusting off your copy of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
Teaming with director of The Messenger, one of Harrelson’s best roles and a deserved Oscar nominee, must have seemed a no-brainer. His performance is the one redemptive light in a muddled mess. He portrays Brown as far smarter than you’d expect – it’s revealed he took, and failed the Bar exam – and seemed destined for a bright future before resigning to let his soul rot in the L.A sun. His supporting cast makes for impressive reading yet ranges from the acceptable (Wright, Beatty and Weaver), the oh so bad (Ice Cube, Heche and Nixon) to the “Hey wait! Was that…” (Buscemi and Foster).
The dirty cop film schtick is becoming a laborious one, save for those with an injection of iguanas and breakdancing souls, and Rampart is no different. Repugnant law abusers seeking solstice has been old-hat since Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, each narrative beat metronomic in structure. Rampart had a chance to be different, to tell the story of a legal pandemic, but settled to use the L.A. backdrop for a poor man’s Training Day. Antoine Fuqua’s 2001 film had Dr. Dre, Rampart has Ice Cube. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?