A veteran narcotics officer whose ethics are dubious at best and sadistic at worst, rudely awakens his new rookie partner from his idealistic dreams. If all first days on the job were like this, unemployment rates would be sky-high.
Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) has one day, and one day only, to prove himself to his new partner, Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), a 13-year vet of the LAPD narcotics division. Harris' years of hardcore experience on Los Angeles' meanest streets, though, have turned him into the same sort of criminal he's supposed to be putting away. At first it seems Harris intends to teach Hoyt his own brand of justice: that in order to catch the big fish sometimes officers must throw the smaller ones back. But as the hours slip away, Hoyt learns just how bad his badass partner really is--Harris starts out as a taunting joker who just wants to give Hoyt a hard time, but by nightfall he's turned into a full-blown monster bent on saving his own skin no matter what.
This two-man show is really a one-man show. It's Washington's game all the way, as he bursts the almost priestly bubble of do-goodness that has surrounded him like a halo for most of his career with a sudden, murderous burst of gunfire. In Day, he is larger than life; clad in black leather and huge jewelry, he towers both physically and psychologically over a scrawny, goateed Hawke (looking like he just walked off the Reality Bites set), who tries valiantly to keep up with his Oscar-winning co-star. It's not that a perfectly wet-behind-the-ears Hawke doesn't adequately carry off the acting required for the situation he's in, but really, we're supposed to believe he hold his own in a fistfight-turned-deathmatch against guys more than twice his size? For his part, Washington chews the scenery like it was his last meal as Alonzo goes from bad to worse, but he sure makes it look fun.
Director Antoine Fuqua (Bait) used to direct music videos for artists like Coolio, and it shows. Love the cool camera angles, the warped POV shots, the primary colors and raw soundtrack. And Fuqua's not afraid to show the L.A. streets at their worst. The first two-thirds are masterful work in character study as the line between good and evil becomes increasingly blurred. But by the final third, the plot disintegrates, getting hacky and waaayy contrived, especially the ''Hey! It just so happens...'' coinky-dinks and a laughable ending that falls flat as a pancake and panders to an urban audience almost to the point of patronization. Most of this movie is so over-the-top it would be unwatchable, were it not for its charismatic lead.
Starts off with a BANG! but ends with a whimper.