Overlong, overstuffed, and badly overdirected, no movie in local theaters right now is plagued by as wide a gulf between ambition and achievement as the nearly two-and-a-half-hour crime drama Brooklyn's Finest, which tracks three generally unconnected New York cops on a contrived collision course that ends one noisy, violent night at a Brooklyn housing-project high-rise.
Don Cheadle is deep undercover, having infiltrated a drug ring run by an old friend (Wesley Snipes) recently out of prison, and is angling for a big promotion. Richard Gere is a beat cop with a week left until retirement, just trying to avoid trouble. Ethan Hawke is a crooked narcotics foot soldier looking for side benefits to help move his expanding family out of their moldy, crowded house. Director Antoine Fuqua partly draws on his 2001 hit Training Day (which also co-starred Hawke), but the real influence, made groaningly plain throughout, is Martin Scorsese.
It's as if, with Scorsese in theaters now with a unrecognizable project (Shutter Island), Fuqua is filling the void by stringing together a bunch of classic Scorsese tropes: Brooklyn's Finest has tortured Catholicism (Mean Streets), tracking shots following protagonists through kitchens and into clubs and bars (Goodfellas), twisty double-cross plotting (The Departed), a squalid bloodbath as violent redemption (Taxi Driver), and unlikely pop songs in unlikely places (you name it). In this modern Brooklyn, classic doo-wop drifts from cop-bar jukeboxes and a hooker plays Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" while snorting coke with her cop companion.
As that last bit suggests, Scorsese isn't the only source borrowed from here. There's a limp attempt at gonzo naughtiness à la Bad Lieutenant (Gere's cop delivers a mundane monologue about his job while receiving head from a prostitute, which comes off as desperate rather than crazed) and Fuqua peppers his Scorsese hand-me-down scenarios with supporting players from the other great modern American crime-cinema source, HBO's The Wire. Michael "Omar Little" Williams, Hassan "Wee-Bey" Johnson, and Isiah "Clay Davis" Whitlock Jr. show up in secondary roles (Wire fans will be disoriented seeing Omar and Wee-Bey on the same side.) If Fuqua is going to have these actors on hand, he should have let them be consultants as well, to give his drug-wars storyline a little more verisimilitude.