The perfectly adequate cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest would feel awfully derivative even without a cast mostly consisting of the Morally Ambiguous Police-Movie All-Stars. Seemingly half the gritty undercover thrillers of the past 25 years are represented. For those keeping track at home, Finest stars Internal Affairs’ Richard Gere, New Jack City’s Wesley Snipes (playing, of all things, a charismatic, larger-than-life drug dealer), Sea Of Love’s Ellen Barkin, and Traitor’s Don Cheadle in a film that reunites one of the leads (Ethan Hawke) and director (Antoine Fuqua) of Training Day. To quote Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again.
Hawke makes the transition from playing a bullied cop having a bitch of a first day in Training Day to starring as a dirty cop who’s respected by his colleagues and superiors, even though he’s racked up a conspicuous body count. No matter the cost to his soul, Hawke desperately pursues enough money to move his ill wife (Lili Taylor) and family out of their mold-infested house. Cheadle co-stars as a moody, tormented undercover agent asked to bring down recently released drug kingpin Snipes, an old friend who helped him out of a bind in prison. And silver fox Gere plays an aging, dispirited veteran pressured to help his department save face by lying after his rookie partner's mistake leaves a teenager seriously injured.
From the moment Gere is introduced waking up to whiskey for breakfast, Brooklyn’s Finest segues smoothly and slickly from one cliché to another. When it’s established that Gere is but days away from retirement, the film skirts self-parody; it wouldn’t be out of place for him to grouse that he’s getting too old for this shit. Fuqua stretches 90 minutes’ worth of material to a heavily padded 140, but he’s blessed with a cast far better than the TV-ready script deserves, especially a smolderingly intense Cheadle as a cop rotting away from the inside. Brooklyn’s Finest was one of the big sales at Sundance last year. Movies that score big Sundance paydays tend to be either so great their potential is obvious to everyone, or incredibly commercial genre films. Fuqua’s star-studded Finest fits one of those criteria, and not because it’s a towering masterpiece.