Set against the backdrop of the Rodney King trial, Dark Blue spins a fictitious tale of corrupt white L.A. policemen who abuse their authority and lie on each other’s behalf. Some, like veteran urban gunslinger Eldon Perry, do it to keep the peace. Others, including his boss, Special Investigations Squad chief Jack Van Meter, do it for selfish gain. Either way, officers who believe they’re above the law are vilified, and are the primary target of noble black LAPD assistant chief Arthur Holland, who vows to topple this unholy brotherhood of crooked cops.
Perry is a hard-drinking, hard-hearted husband and father whose family is slipping through his fingers. He has bought into the LAPD fraternity, and lives by the simple rule, "At the end of the day, the bullets were in the bad guys, not us." Wrong has become right to his seared conscience. And he’s oblivious to what it has done to him. That is until his young partner, Bobby, is bothered by things he’s told to do. Shooting unarmed suspects. Setting up thugs to take a fall for crimes they didn’t commit. Lying to superiors. As they investigate a quadruple homicide in Koreatown that leads them to suspect dirty cops, Bobby’s internal conflicts and other unexpected events prick what’s left of Perry’s conscience, causing him to try to set things straight.
positive elements: Perry’s marital struggles are caused by his ignoble character—a warning to tempestuous workaholics. Despite having a skeleton in his closet (the private pain of which is shown), Holland is a Christian who adheres to the law and respects the duties of his badge. Bobby’s honesty and decency are challenged when he receives orders to break the rules. Although he gives in on several occasions, he is tormented by his behavior and decides to tell Holland the whole truth. Perry risks severe consequences—including prison time—when he publicly confesses the sins he has committed over the years (a means of indicting his corrupt boss).
spiritual content: Sarcastically, Perry tells Jack that he works like God, "in mysterious ways." When speaking at his church, Holland shouts, "Praise the Lord!" He also refers to justice descending like the wrath of God. For a change it’s nice to see the "man of faith" shine as one of the most noble characters on the screen, however ...
nudity and sexual content: We learn that, five years prior, Holland and a female colleague had a brief affair (photos of which get sent to his wife by a rival within the force). Cops visit a strip club, where a topless woman dances suggestively. Bobby and a casual bedmate don’t even exchange last names as they frolic under the sheets ("I kind of like it like this. Nothing serious," she says). There are brief references to sodomy, rape and a woman "servicing" an entire football team. Two crooks wager on the outcome of the Rodney King trial, with the loser promising to provide a "ho" for the winner. Later, a prostitute is shown in their apartment. When Perry learns that his teenage son has been dialing 900 numbers for phone sex, he laughs indifferently and expresses relief that his boy isn’t gay. Jack thumbs through photos of women in various stages of undress.
violent content: The film opens with what looks like home-video footage of the Rodney King beating. Two masked men walk into a Korean store and shoot the lady behind the counter. While one works on the safe upstairs, the other kills several innocent customers who wander into the shop (as one woman gets dragged out of view, a trail of blood remains). On their way out of the store, they pause to fire more bullets into the dead bodies, then shoot a homeless man outside. A cop gets riddled with bullets. To score information from guys hanging out on a street corner, Perry grabs one and shoots pepper spray in his face, threatening to do it again if he fails to cooperate. He also threatens a bartender with a broken bottle and roughs him up in an alley. A man describes a crime in which a 12-year-old boy killed an ice cream truck driver. Cops bust in on a suspect, guns blazing, then Bobby shoots the man in cold blood. Criminals kill a prostitute (we see the dead body on their couch). A corpse turns up in a refrigerator. During the L.A. riots, chaos rules the streets. Cars are attacked and overturned. Property is destroyed. A man is dragged from his vehicle and beaten to death. Perry exchanges gunfire with a pair of gangstaz. Rap music glamorizes the thug lifestyle.
crude or profane language: There are more than 100 f-words, some contained in explicit rap music that plays over the proceedings. There are also instances of sexual slang, more than 50 s-words, and over a dozen racial slurs and misuses of God and Jesus’ name.
drug and alcohol content: Hard liquor is consumed frequently; at home, on the job, at a strip club, at a bar. A judge drinks a martini. Corona and Crown Royal are conspicuous favorites of people in this film. Perry playfully calls his wife an alcoholic. He later refers to himself as one. Characters smoke cigarettes. Cops celebrate with cigars and drinks.
other negative elements: The racial tension in this film is unsettling, but not inherently problematic. What may bother some viewers, however, is how the filmmakers use uncomfortably bold strokes to paint most white cops as dishonest and in cahoots, while African-Americans on the force seem to wear halos.
conclusion: Sex. Obscenities. Brutality. That’s reason enough to give this police story a thumbs down. But beyond that, it’s a pretty empty experience. The potential existed to—with a decade of hindsight—take a smart, dramatic look back at the Rodney King episode. But Dark Blue never adequately explores the racial issues at its core. Instead it defaults to a standard tale of dirty cops being confronted by one of their own after a murder case exposes the depths of their corruption. As unconventional as the officers’ tactics are, this movie is very much by the book. There’s the Dirty Harry-style hero who’s convinced himself that the ends justify the means. The chief so crooked and sloppy it’s a wonder he hasn’t been nailed already. Then there’s the troubled marriage. The doomed rookie partner. And what film in this genre would be complete without the obligatory cops-visit-a-strip-club scene? It’s time for these guys to turn in their badges.