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‘Black and Blue’: Heavy on stereotypes, police thriller blows its chance to make a statement

Strong performances by Naomie Harris and Tyrese Gibson aren’t enough to save this predictable and sometimes maddeningly stupid shoot-’em-up.

After witnessing a murder by a corrupt cop, a rookie police officer (Naomie Harris) goes into hiding in “Black and Blue.”
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We’re up to our necks in blood and bodies and dumbed-down plot developments in the New Orleans-set cop thriller “Black and Blue,” when the already heavy-handed social commentary becomes even more ridiculous and didactic.

All of a sudden, one key character delivers a long-winded speech about Katrina and FEMA. Another scene involves a confrontation in which adversaries locked in a life-and-death struggle actually argue about “what the point is,” a la a junior high debate.

Please. Spare us. It’s far too late in the game to pretend this stereotype-riddled and gratuitously violent nonsense suddenly has a real political conscience.

It’s great to see outstanding supporting player Naomie Harris (“Moonlight,” “Skyfall”) in a lead role, and Harris delivers strong work as a 10-year Army combat veteran who is now a rookie cop in her native New Orleans. And Tyrese Gibson turns in a genuine character performance as a local who becomes her unlikely ally.

Alas, their strong work isn’t nearly enough to save this predictable and sometimes maddeningly stupid shoot-’em-up from landing on the B-movie garbage pile with a resounding thud.

Harris plays Alicia West, who at 17 joined the Army as an escape route from her rough, poverty-stricken New Orleans neighborhood. After two tours of duty in Afghanistan, Alicia has returned home and has joined the police force, hoping to be an agent of change — but as Alicia quickly learns when she and her partner Kevin (Reid Scott) make a stop in her old neighborhood, she’s now considered the enemy. Her onetime best friend Missy (Nafessa Williams) won’t even admit to knowing her.

“You’re ‘blue’ now,” Alicia’s colleagues on the force tell her, more than once. As in: The color of your uniform is more important than the color of your skin.

Thanks to the first of many contrived and logic-defying plot machinations (which often become even more ridiculous in hindsight), Alicia witnesses Frank Grillo’s corrupt narcotics officer Terry Malone executing a teenage drug dealer. Malone’s partner Smitty (Beau Knapp) opens fire on Alicia and wounds her, but thanks to a protective vest and the fact Alicia is the hero of our story, she manages to survive and escape.

Alicia’s bodycam captured everything. Now all she has to do is make her way back to the station with the incriminating evidence — but as it turns out, the entire department is riddled with corruption, and Malone has put out the word to every crooked cop out there that Alicia must be stopped, or they’ll all go to prison.

Malone also manages to convince his partner in drug-dealing kickback crime, the powerful gang leader Darius (Mike Colter), that Alicia pulled the trigger on the teenager (who happened to be Darius’ beloved nephew). He even provides Darius with a photo of Alicia in uniform — which goes on blast throughout the neighborhood, effectively placing a bounty on Alicia.

And let’s not forget Alicia is still bleeding from that wound, because of course we’re going to get the obligatory patch-it-up scene in which the on-the-run hero uses whatever resources are available (whether it be needle and thread or stapler or superglue) to close the gash and stave off sepsis in groan-inducing (and medically preposterous) fashion.

Time and again, Alicia finds herself relying on Gibson’s Mouse, a good-guy convenience store morning shift manager who (with every good reason) has a deep distrust of the police, to help her stay one step ahead of everyone trying to kill her.

The evolving dynamic between Alicia and Mouse is the most compelling aspect of “Black and Blue.” They bring out the best in one another.

On the downside, even with the occasional attempt at debate-inducing insight, and acknowledging some stunning visuals courtesy of the legendary cinematographer Dante Spinotti (“Heat,” “L.A. Confidential”), this is on balance a second-rate story, filled with broad stereotypes.

The vast majority of white cops in “Black and Blue” are monstrously racist, murderous, greedy buffoons. I would argue a less cartoonish take might be more effective.

Also: The most powerful black man in “Black and Blue” is a drug-dealing gang leader who wears a fur-collared coat and sports a gold dental “grill.”

It’s hard to make a case for being a timely, provocative thriller when so many characters are regressive caricatures.