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Thursday, April 5, 2012 04:31 am

Harrelson can’t save rambling Rampart

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After Oren Moverman’s Rampart was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, its star, Woody Harrelson, was critical of the movie, saying it was not what he had envisioned when he read the script and that he was dissatisfied with the way it had been put together. For the sake of the film’s box office future, and the fact that there was talk of the actor getting an Oscar nomination for his work, Harrelson quickly retreated and said that he had made his peace with the film and the director. Ironically, in a recent interview with this reviewer for 21 Jump Street, co-star Ice Cube called Rampart “a piece of crap” and also expressed dismay between the differences with the finished product and the script.

It’s easy to see where these complaints are coming from. Rampart is a bit of a mess, a rambling piece of cinema that contains, somewhere amid the detritus, a compelling drama about a self-destructive cop whose past has caught up to him. Unfortunately, there are far too many subplots at play here, some of them engaging, others undeveloped, which lead to a frustrating film-going experience. That’s too bad as there are some good things here, chief among them Harrelson’s performance. Rarely has the actor been so fully immersed in a role, embracing his character’s deplorable qualities and creating a genuinely frightening portrait of self-destruction.

To say that officer David Brown (Harrelson) is a renegade cop is akin to pointing out that the sky is blue. A veteran officer, he’s been given the nickname “Date Rape Dave” due to rumors that years earlier he took the law into his own hands and killed a suspected rapist. He’s a drug addict, has no problems taking bribes or planting evidence, goes out of his way to humiliate rookies and is as narcissistic as the day is long. He also has the temerity to share a home with his two ex-wives (Cynthia Nixon and Anne Heche), who happen to be sisters, and their kids. Dave sees this as an arrangement of convenience. The women have reached their limit with his domineering ways.

However, the roof has begun to cave in on Dave as he’s the focus of an investigation of a rather suspicious murder. The officer in charge of the probe (Sigourney Weaver) has been wanting to get Dave off the streets for years and this may be her chance, especially when he finds himself over a barrel with Hartsom (Ned Beatty), a retired cop who’s blackmailing him.

As if this weren’t plot enough for two films, Moverman also throws an equally self-destructive prosecutor (Robin Wright) in Dave’s path as well as an officer from internal affairs (Ice Cube) to contend with. (I suspect he may be a figment of Dave’s imagination but I can’t be sure). Obviously, the intent is to show that the world is crashing in on Dave and the result is to watch him slowly implode. However, it all becomes far too much to juggle for the viewer and Overman for that matter. There’s enough material here for a mini-series and I’d be curious to see an uncut version of the film. I suspect a great deal of information that would clarify many narrative mysteries ended up on the cutting room floor.

This is too bad. Rarely are you able to pull together a cast of this caliber (Steve Buscemi also makes a brief appearance) and it must be said that everyone is just as intense as Harrelson is, creating a gritty tone and a sense that the knot at the story’s center is tightening as things progress and that Dave’s future can only end badly. In the end, Rampart is a missed opportunity, a movie that could have been an instant urban classic but ends up being an overstuffed film that fails to live up to its potential.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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