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Friday August 12th

Washington, Hawke Add Life to `Training' Tale

Training Day

If "Training Day" is an accurate look at the life of a Los Angeles narcotics officer, our friends in California are in a lot of trouble.

Fortunately, director Antoine Fuqua's dark portrayal of a rookie cop's first day as a narc is definitely a flight of fancy.

Accurate, no. Entertaining -- very.

The movie's theme is familiar -- a new cop clashes with his corrupt, no-rules teacher. But the solid acting of Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington freshen up the cookie-cutter story.

Jack (Hawke), a wet-behind-the-ears patrol cop, is sent to veteran narc Alonso (masterfully portrayed by Washington) for a day of on-the-job schooling.

Washington is definitely the movie's main attraction.

He manipulates the other characters like a puppet master, dispensing harsh street justice from the wrong side of the law.

His character is crooked to the core, eaten up by the corruption of the street and blinded by the power of his office.

The sadism in the film, provided by Washington's character, is disturbing -- Alonso pairs beatings with psychological abuse, using the brutality of the street to justify his own "it takes a wolf to catch a wolf" attitude.

Hawke provides an excellent counterpoint to Washington's viciousness. His rookie jitters and shock over his tutor's actions are believable and well-delivered, and he manages to avoid the boy scout/cop cliche through some judicious use of excessive force.

Constant tension between the law and the streets creates a wonderfully suspenseful atmosphere. Simple looks at everyday life are balanced on a knife's edge with the arrival of the police, turning a simple card game or a car full of teenagers into a hornet's nest waiting to be kicked.

Similar to "Traffic," the realities of living next door to the drug trade are portrayed in unflinching detail in the film. Every scene is inhabited by all manner of criminals, and seeing small children playing basketball beside gun-toting gangsters paints a jarring, sobering picture of ghetto life.

The film does have its low points, particularly the same-oldness of the storyline. The rogue cop movie has already been through groundbreaking iterations such as "L.A. Confidential," and "Training Day" doesn't really add much to the genre.

The plot twists are obvious and predictable, with few real surprises. The story's generic feel is further enhanced by unrealistic scenes of cops drawing down on every suspect, rushing into battle without any backup whatsoever, and engaging in running gunfights in crowded neighborhoods.

And while one classic sequence sees Hawke bounced through parked cars like a pinball, most of the action scenes are straight out of earlier films.

While the plot is see-through and the action is bland, "Training Day" is still a tense, angst-filled voyage through the wrong side of town. Just hope that cops like these are the exception rather than the rule.

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