Strong acting, stellar cast can’t save ‘Rampart’

Rampart/2011/Millennium Entertainment/108 min.

“This used to be a glorious soldiers’ department,” says Woody Harrelson as dirty LA cop and Vietnam vet Dave Brown early on in “Rampart” by director Oren Moverman.

He’s right. Beset by the Rampart scandal, the LAPD in 1999 is anything but glorious. And corrupt, bloodthirsty, womanizing, racist Dave is anything but sympathetic. Dave’s also oddly verbose at times, perhaps signaling that he isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.

The best part of “Rampart” is the strong acting by Harrelson and the rest of the cast – Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Robin Wright, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Sigourney Weaver, Ice Cube, and a cameo from Steve Buscemi.

Despite the formidable acting, there’s scant character development, a turbid storyline and gimmicky camerawork. Sometimes the script, by Moverman and James Ellroy, just thuds. When Dave meets Linda (Wright) in a bar, his opening gambit is: “You’re wearing a courtroom suit and you have litigator eyes.” Really?

And when Beatty’s character, an ex-bad-cop, meets Dave in a library, he tells him: “I don’t play games. I don’t name names.”

As much as I wanted to like “Rampart,” I found the film unpleasant to watch. Granted, it is unpleasant subject matter, but dramatically this is a letdown. I had high hopes for “Rampart” because I admired Harrelson and Moverman’s excellent movie “The Messenger” from 2009. For really sizzling neo-noir stories of police corruption, give me “L.A. Confidential” (based on Ellroy’s novel) or “Serpico” anytime.

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Fabulously funny, edgily dark, ‘Big Lebowski’ is out on Blu-ray

The Big Lebowski/1998/Universal/117 min.

Post a comment on any story this month and you’ll be entered into a draw to win this Blu-ray release from Universal.

By Michael Wilmington

Jeff Bridges is matchless as The Dude.

“The Big Lebowski,” that class-by-itself, goofball masterpiece by Joel and Ethan Coen is a fabulously funny and edgily dark comic movie tribute to the time-wasters, layabouts and oddballs of the world. Especially the ones in Los Angeles, a city that the Coens catch here with devilish bite and angelic wit.

It’s as sharp and dead-on a picture of LA as you’ll see ever: of its rotten upper-crust and its laidback subculture, and especially of its well-lit bowling lanes.

Funny as hell, it’s a goddamn ode to all those guys who are too off-the edge to work out some halfway normal existence – embodied here in star Jeff Bridges, that man among men and dude among dudes Jeff Lebowski – who indeed prefers the name “The Dude.”

The Dude is … well, what can we say? He’s the Dude! He’s Santa Monica Boulevard on a sunny day; he’s the Farmer’s Market at sunrise; he’s Hollywood Boulevard at 10 p.m.

“The Big Lebowski” tells the story of this ’70s guy in a ’90s world. It’s also a great neo noir, a sort of thriller that plunges the Dude into a Raymond Chandler-style detective story, with the Dude as an impromptu detective who can’t really detect much, but gives it a try anyway.

Accompanying the Dude are his two bowling buddies, wired-tight Vietnam vet and Jewish convert Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and quiet ex-surfin’ Donny Karabatsos (Steve Buscemi). In the tangled plot, The Dude is mistaken for another, much richer Jeff Lebowski (David Huddleston), a phony philanthropist. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the other Lebowski’s shit-eating grin of a secretary. Julianne Moore is his artsy daughter and a sort of femme fatale, Maude Lebowski.

Julianne Moore

What a show. The writing is razor sharp and so is the filmmaking. Roger Deakins shot it immaculately, and the sound track, supervised by T-Bone Burnett, is fantastic – ranging from Mozart and Korngold to Debbie Reynolds singing “Tammy” to Dean Martin singing “Standing on the Corner” and Nina Simone singing “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” to Booker T. and the M. G.s to Townes Van Zandt covering that great underperformed Rolling Stones classic “Dead Flowers.”

As for Jeff Bridges … well, Jeff Bridges was born to play the Dude. The other actors are super, sometimes great, especially Goodman. But Bridges is beyond great, beyond wonderful, beyond Mombasa. He‘s the Dude. His Dudeness. Take it easy, man. But take it.

Extras: Documentaries; Featurettes; Jeff Bridges photos.

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