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‘Brooklyn’s Finest’ Feels Too Familiar

"Brooklyn's Finest" is more like Hollywood's Most Heavy Handed.

Melodramatic and laden with cop-thriller cliches, the story, set in one of New York's toughest precincts, is contrived and inauthentic - and also grisly.

The performances are not the problem; the overall story is. Director Antoine Fuqua knows how to make gritty and engrossing cop thrillers, as evidenced by 2001's ultra-tense Training Day. But this NYPD saga is less compelling than the average television police procedural.

The premise sounds workable: Three police officers - each on a different career path, but alike in their states of despair - wind up at the same crime scene. Will they be redeemed or released from pain?

There's Tango (Don Cheadle), whose undercover work in a violent drug ring is supposed to lead to a more secure desk job. He's doing good work, but is inexplicably mistreated by superiors. A particularly despicable police official (a way-over-the-top Ellen Barkin) taunts Tango, snarling racist slurs at him. As his boss (Will Patton) makes promises and reneges on them, Tango finds himself bonding with the ring's leader, Caz (Wesley Snipes), a drug dealer with a heart of gold.

And speaking of gilded hearts, Richard Gere plays Eddie, a burned-out cop paying nightly calls to a kindly hooker (Shannon Kane). She treats him more like a valued employee than a john. Not only does she listen and cluck about his laments (those dissertations being his version of foreplay), but she also buys him a parting gift: a gold watch inscribed with a line from a tune sung by Boy George. No, it doesn't make any more sense when you're watching it.

At the other end of the entanglement spectrum is narcotics officer Sal (Ethan Hawke), a devoted Catholic and father of seven children who goes to confession regularly, though he's struggling to stay on the right side of the law. His asthmatic wife (Lili Taylor) is pregnant with twins and growing sicker daily because of the mold in their tiny house.

All three officers endure a chaotic week on the force, grapple with their conscience and question their values.

It's good to see Snipes back on the big screen, and the scenes he shares with Cheadle are a highlight. But there's so much unremitting pain, such a constant string of calamities in the lives of all the players, that the dreariness overshadows the story.

There's a good movie to be made about the wrenching pressures endured and daily risks faced by law enforcement types. But the popular formula needs an inventive angle.

"Brooklyn's Finest," like its title, is overly familiar.

Rated: R for bloody violence throughout, strong sexuality, nudity, drug content and pervasive language

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