Inept pupil

Mediocre cop flick makes all the usual mistakes.


directed by Antoine Fuqua with Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke opens Oct. 5 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, and others

BE WARNED: The press screening for Training Day took place two days after the collapsing World Trade Center delivered thousands to their deaths, so this reviewer had an even smaller stomach than usual for a tepid, ultraviolent action flick whose plot can be summed up as good cop vs. bad cop.

Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) is the ethical one, an idealistic, white-boy rookie who aims to become an undercover narcotics officer in the hard-knocks hoods of L.A. To get the gig, he has to prove himself to Sergeant Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), a sharp-witted, tough-hided veteran of the drug war who affectionately dubs the naive Hoyt "my nigger." Over the course of one extraordinarily eventful day, Harris reveals the extent of his corruption: boozing while driving; big-time manhandling of small-time crooks; pocketing bricks of cash after killing a fellow shady cop. Though Harris advises, "You've gotta decide whether you're a wolf or a sheep," idealistic Hoyt suspects there's another, more honorable way to keep the streets safe—and he'll defend this belief even if it means antagonizing his superior.

If Hawke had only known that the philosopher-slacker character of Reality Bites would haunt his every future role, he might well have passed on the part. The ironic, hipster facial expressions barely worked in Hamlet, but they're ludicrous here. (At least take a razor to that goatee, Ethan!) Washington once again gives an admirable performance, subtly kindling a few sparks of empathy for a character that was probably detestable on paper; yet after playing Malcolm X, this dimensionless role seems a degrading comedown for the Oscar winner. Cameos from Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Macy Gray might arch a few eyebrows, but don't expect any other surprises from a movie that employs all the clich鳠of ghetto-themed films and music videos, from the Latina spitfire to the low-rider to the poker-faced Cholos who nod their heads to Cypress Hill.

Violence is equally stereotypical and abundant, with Harris repeatedly pressing his gun against heads and sticking a pen down a drug dealer's throat so he'll hack up a baggie of crack. Watching Day with the images of people jumping out of the World Trade Center fresh in one's head, such petty thuggery appears all the more gratuitous. One hopes that Hollywood, like Denzel Washington, will now forgo the pistol whippings in favor of something more meaningful.

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