“I’m not a racist,” says Dave Brown. “I hate all people equally.” Dave Brown is a crooked, brutal, misogynistic L.A. cop who can turn a phrase now and again and, as is evident, can crib from Dirty Harry. Woody Harrelson plays Brown with a growing intensity. Just about every bureaucratic pressure is brought against him after he is caught on tape delivering a Rodney King to an unfortunate citizen. And in many ways, that’s the least of his worries. His ex-wives (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) are sisters and he has a daughter with each, making for a challenging domestic life. He’s also an alcoholic and drug abuser, a thug, a sex fiend, and a murderer. And he’s going broke.
Similar to Bad Lieutenant, Rampart’s greatest virtue is the performance of its lead. There are also some well-written Wire lite exchanges, and director Owen Moverman (following up on his impressive The Messenger) films 1999 Los Angeles in a bleached, dreamy manner. But otherwise, this is a meandering, exhausting tale of the descent of a mildly interesting bully, made even longer by an utterly pointless relationship between Harrelson and a bar pick-up/defense attorney (Robin Wright). His exchanges with the bureaucrats hounding him (Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, and Ice Cube) are banal, his heart-to-hearts with ex-wives shed no light, and his discussions with his very bitter, uncommunicative older teen daughter are grating. Harrelson does a very effective job of conveying the importance and centrality of his home, especially in his moving scenes with the younger daughter, but that’s all Harrelson. The script offers little assistance (a personal disappointment because it was co-written by one of my favorite crime novelists, James Ellroy).
Not to mention, there is no street cop so well-connected or union protected that he could still be on duty after becoming front page news in a brutal beating and then involved in a deadly force shooting. Of course, were Harrelson suspended, Moverman would have to lose the cool shots of Harrelson in his police cruiser, contemplating his surroundings and his future.
It’s no shock the audience gave this a 38% and the critics gave it a 78% on rottentomatoes.