“Is this a guy or a girl singing this song?”
“Not that there’s much of a difference these days. I think that line was obliterated the day men started saying, ‘We’re pregnant,’ when their wives were.” — Typical exchange between two cretin cops in “Dragged Across Concrete.”
Say this for the lurid and blood-soaked cop thriller “Dragged Across Concrete”:
It ain’t bashful.
From that ridiculously pulpy title to a running time (2 hours and 39 minutes) that exceeds “The Departed” by eight minutes to the casting of Mel Gibson as a volatile, racist, homophobic, sexist, crooked cop, writer-director S. Craig Zahler is clearly willing to step on more than a few toes as he swings for the fences.
I wouldn’t call the result a strikeout — and in less talented hands, it could have been a flat-out disaster — but it falls far short of anything approaching a home run.
To his credit, Zahler consistently tries to bend conventional rules of cinematic storytelling, e.g., stakeout conversations that take on an almost documentary feel and last far longer than the norm for such scenes.
The problem is, the turtle-paced realism is likely to have the audience fidgeting — or reaching for the fast-forward button .
Gibson plays old-time copper Brett Ridgeman and Vince Vaughn (who starred in Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” as well as Zahler’s bone-crunching prison drama “Cell Block 99”) is his generation-younger partner, Anthony Lurasetti, both veteran peace officers in the fictitious, blue-collar city of Bulwark.
We meet them as they’re staking out the apartment of a drug dealer. When the suspect tries to escape through a window, Brett takes him down with excessive force. Moments later, Brett joins his partner Anthony inside the apartment, where they humiliate the suspect’s Latino girlfriend — pretending they can’t understand her even though she’s speaking English, refusing to allow her to get dressed, abusing her with racist comments.
Ladies and gentlemen: the “heroes” of our story.
Zahler’s screenplay often has Brett and/or Anthony making offensive comments — but the dialogue often seems overly written and forced, e.g., when the two keep referring, over and over again, to the men they’re chasing as “the two black dudes,” or when Brett notes a woman’s purse is a little heavy (indicating she might have a gun), and Anthony responds, “Even taking into account the amount of makeup Latinas carry?”
After a local TV reporter exposes Brett’s brutality, his commanding officer, played by Don Johnson (doesn’t anybody on this police force ever retire??) suspends Brett and Anthony without pay for six weeks.
With Anthony on the verge of proposing marriage to his classy and smart and gorgeous and out-of-his-league African-American girlfriend Denise (Tattiawna Jones) and Brett struggling to keep up with the medical bills for his ex-cop wife (Laurie Holden), who has MS, the men are in need of a big score — so after MUCH deliberation, they move forward with a plan to rob a drug dealer.
Another storyline involves a young man named Henry (Tory Kittles) who comes home from prison and learns his mother (Vanessa Bell Calloway) is turning tricks to support her heroin habit, while his little brother Ethan (Myles Truitt), who is in a wheelchair, locks himself in his bedroom for hours at a time, playing video games and dreaming of becoming a video game designer.
Henry doesn’t want to return to a life of crime, but given the situation at home, he doesn’t see how he can turn down an offer to participate in a score — which eventually results in him crossing bloody, bullet-riddled paths with Brett and Anthony.
As the crime caper goes from complicated to convoluted to insanely out of control, writer-director Zahler peppers the movie with not-so-subtle visual trolling, whether Tony visits a jeweler with a gigantic in-store sign telling us this is “FEINBAUM” jewelers; Brett chiding Anthony for his “gay” hair product; Brett’s wife saying, “I never thought I was a racist, but … if we don’t move out of this neighborhood, we’re going to wind up at a hospital, talking to a rape counselor,” or two black men putting on “white face” so they’ll be less suspicious-looking.
Great movies can be and have been made about deeply flawed, even monstrous characters who say and do unspeakably terrible things. “Dragged Across Concrete” is an admittedly distinctive but ultimately mediocre movie that provides far more empty calories of exploitation than genuine food for thought.
‘Dragged Across Concrete’
Summit Entertainment presents a film written and directed by S. Craig Zahler. Rated R (for strong violence, grisly images, language, and some sexuality/nudity). Running time: 159 minutes. Now showing at Arclight Chicago and on demand.