"Today is the day" is a refrain repeated throughout the troublesome corrupt-cop drama "Dirty," a fictional response to the LAPD's Rampart scandal. It's the day that undercover officers Armando Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Salim Adel (Cuba Gooding Jr.) don their blues to face an internal affairs investigation over a shooting in which an old man was killed.
It's also the day Sancho must choose whether to take a deal from IA and rat out all the dirty deeds perpetuated in his unit or stay true to his colleagues. If that isn't enough to mess with Sancho's mind, he keeps hallucinating, seeing the dying old man's face wherever he turns.
A lot happens in this day-in-the-life movie, but it's oddly uninvolving. Director Chris Fisher, who scripted along with Gil Reavill and Eric Saks, has fashioned a withering view of Los Angeles and especially the police department. These aren't rogue cops, it's an entire rogue force.
The anti-gang unit to which Sancho and Adel are attached reeks of corruption from the captain (Keith David) and lieutenant (Cole Hauser) on down. No sooner do the partners finish the morning briefing then they are sent on an assignment from the lieutenant to hook up with Brax (Wood Harris), the representative of a drug lord named Baine (Wyclef Jean, with a Caribbean accent so thick it's subtitled).
Are they being set up or will this deal enrich their coffers and earn the loyalty of their betters?
In addition to the specter of the old man pursuing him, ex-gang member Sancho is being choked by a sudden onset of conscience that distances him from his partner as the day digresses. Collins ("Traffic," "Capote"), good as always, delivers what back story there is via narration. Gooding has his best role in years, even if it seems like a warm-up for "Training Day 2."
Fisher's L.A. is blanched and choked with smog, mirroring Sancho's lack of clarity and the muddled opportunities for redemption. The film winds a gerrymandered path from downtown to Venice, snaking through the most menacing, fractured-concrete sections of town. All the flash-and-burn stylization begins to wear as Sancho and Adel beat a dangerous and bloody trail, and "Dirty" begins to look like "Cops" on crack.
As good as the leads and the supporting cast are, and as much action as gets packed into the film's relatively brief running time, none of it draws us in dramatically. The unending barrage of crosses and double-crosses and over-plotting frustrate what might have been an epic conflict between two cops on divergent moral trajectories.
MPAA rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexual content and drug use.
A Silver Nitrate release. Director Chris Fisher. Producer Ash Shah, David Hillary, Tim Peternel. Executive producers Sundip Shah, Barry Brooker. Screenplay by Chris Fisher, Gil Reavill, Eric Saks. Cinematographer Eliot Rockett. Editor Miklos Wright. Music Ryan Beveridge. Production designer Anthony Rivero Stabley. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times