“I know, the rogue cop and the Hollywood madam. Sounds like a sitcom, right?” says rogue cop Frank Rourke (Bill Paxton) to a Hollywood madam in one of the more self-aware moments of the new CBS series, “Training Day.”
This film-to-television adaptation takes place 15 years after the demise of depraved LAPD narcotics officer Alonzo Harris (played by Denzel Washington in the film), and there’s concern that Rourke — a good ol’ boy from Texas who’s seen it all as an L.A. detective — may be headed down the same crooked path.
So the department’s top brass pairs him with conscientious young “trainee” Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell), whose directive is to keep an eye on Rourke. From his report they hope to determine if the department’s best investigator is also now it’s most corrupt.
The problem here is that the gritty aesthetic that made the film so powerful has been cleaned up and toned down for this prime time procedural. Without the necessary amounts of terror and depravity— remember how terrified Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt was of Washington’s sociopathic Harris?-- all that’s left is a good actor (Paxton) trying to create something meaningful out of the usual cop show cliches.
Rourke is a muscle car-driving, assault weapon-toting badass in perpetual need of a shower. Hardened criminals from Boyle Heights to San Pedro are more traumatized by this guy than any other rogue cop since Harris, or at least that’s what we’re meant to believe.
Paxton’s talent for infusing the roles of understated, average white guys with complex dimensionality has been a gift that he’s delivered consistently over his long career. He convinced us to root for the “Big Love” polygamist Bill Henrickson, after all.
But in “Training Day,” he’s bogged down by leaden dialogue (“Should we kill each other now?” asks a Mexican drug lord during a gun fight. “Maybe another time,” Rourke quips. “I’m tired”), action-above-substance scenarios and a supporting cast of at least two hot, young cops who look more like American Apparel models than law enforcement. With little to work with, the grizzled detective comes off more like a rough-and -tumble drinking buddy than the last menacing face drug dealers see before meeting their maker.
The critical tension between Rourke and his new partner, Craig, is also implied but never quite delivered. Newcomer Cornwell doesn’t have much to do but play the stoic, occasionally outraged straight man to Rourke’s unpredictability. And since Rourke isn’t all that unpredictable…
The city of Los Angeles and the diverse population of its seedy underbelly also play a big role here, as they did in the film. But without the nuance to elevate the city and its people, “Training Day” relies on shopworn stereotypes: Shady Latino gang bangers; Ditzy blonde call girls who worry about ruining their “pedi” while dodging bullets barefoot; Asian gangsters who proclaim things like “Konichiwa, ass clowns!” before lighting up their victims.
There’s even the Asian drug lord whose chosen weapon is an heirloom, Samurai-like sword: “This sword has been in my family for five generations, detective. You should be honored I’m going to kill you with it.” Rourke, of course, uses a reliable old American baseball bat: “You should be honored I’m gonna beat your ass to death with [this bat]….”
Race is also supposed to play a part here. The bad cop is a Texas transplant who speaks in rural Americanisms and raw L.A. slang, while his straight-arrow partner is a black Angeleno who refreshingly speaks in far fewer hip-hop-isms than his white partner. But more than that, Rourke makes comments that are borderline racist, a plot device that’s perhaps meant to juxtapose the falsehoods of bigotry with the reality of multi-cultural L.A.
But in today’s climate, where neo-Nazis openly salute the new president, many Muslims are banned and protests about black lives and Mexican border walls are a daily reality, Rourke’s prejudices are not explored enough to justify why we’re subjected to them in the first place.
“Training Day” does not take place over the course of a day, or even two, which is one more detour that prompts the question: why even bother giving this show the same title as the film?
The series would have had a better chance on its own, as an odd-couple police procedural that did not require at least some of the grit, tension and depth of its formidable predecessor.
When: 10 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)