Narc struggles to prove its grit.

Straining Day 

Narc struggles to prove its grit.

Cops die daily, and they die bad," barks manic police Lieutenant Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) to undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis (Jason Patric), revealing both his hardened attitude and a little confusion when it comes to adverbs. Welcome to Narc, a passable exercise in the gritty, post-Training Day dirty-cop thriller form.

The warmed-over gangsta essence of Narc is that fuckers keep fucking up each other's fucking shit until every fucking thing gets all fucking fucked up. To deliver this concept, dewy and derivative writer-director Joe Carnahan (Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane) exploits every bit of obnoxious stylistic wankery at his disposal, flash-frames stuck on like Post-it Notes. Authenticity and plausibility get gunned down at the get-go, but if explosive shaky-cam ultraviolence and frequent extreme close-ups of greasy whiskers are your bag, this hyperactive wanna-be may count as a score.

The movie kicks off with a bloodbath. Attempting to bag a perp, Tellis blows away the baddie on a playground but also hits a pregnant woman, killing her unborn child. Eighteen months later, the undercover narc's unexpected early retirement isn't sitting well with him or his unspeakably boring wife, Audrey (Krista Bridges).

The solution, of course, is that street-smart recovering junkie Tellis must take on -- wait for it! -- one last dangerous job before his supervisor (Chi McBride, groaning his way through) will grant him a cushy desk job. Tellis teams up with dodgy, excessively aggressive Oak to find out who whacked dirty cop Calvess (Alan Van Sprang).

Tom Cruise, Narc's executive producer, would have been good in the dazed and confused Jason Patric role a few years ago, back when he still had to prove his royalty. No offense to Patric -- he knows how to work the Serpico groove -- but the whole project feels like a hand-me-down. For example, fledgling screenwriters, it is not always necessary to name your protagonist "Nick." Composers, you needn't ape the chilly synths of Eric Serra (Léon: The Professional). And Mr. Liotta, when your onscreen partner is shot at close range and you are told to inquire, "You all right?" please argue with the director.

Fortunately, though the plot of Narc ain't worth a hill of dope, some of the filler scenes leave an agreeable buzz. As if to make up for the outrageous coincidence in Training Day, a dramatic bathtub scene replaces the squirming Ethan Hawke with the overripe corpse of a moronic ganja farmer. (It's one of two puking scenes in which Patric appears to vomit fresh baby poop.)

To its credit, the slick, energetic movie contains moments of attempted tenderness (Carnahan's women, whether pathetic or dead, are highly revered) and a truly funny line ("Fuckin' Coolio here tried to blow my head off!" shouts Patric of a disoriented hood played by Busta Rhymes). Otherwise, though, Narc is just its own derivative movie poster writ large -- moody, mean and gritty, sure, but also obvious and uninspired to the point of distraction.

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