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NO RETIREMENT FOR BUDDY-COPS

A fail-safe genre that rarely misfires

by Kaori Shoji

Hollywood Homicide

Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Ron Shelton
Running time: 111 minutes
Language: English
Opens Jan. 24
[See Japan Times movie listings]

It’s interesting to see the different fates allotted to those stars who’ve entered what used to be termed their “twilight years.” In the 1960s, action stars actually had twilight years and spent them in some plush Malibu bungalow, avoiding the press but emerging now and then to grant exclusive interviews when they deemed the time right. These days, of course, stars are obliged to go on working more or less forever. There is no twilight, just a loooong stretch of white daylight that, as time moves on, can be mercilessly harsh and unflattering. But no matter. It’s gratifying (and so reassuring) to see the screen heroes of one’s teenhood still doing the same kind of things in the same kind of way. By proxy, it makes one feel young, sort of (see Demi Moore for more options). In this case, the star who’s triggered that rejuvenating feeling is Harrison Ford.

Harrison’s latest appearance is in “Hollywood Homicide,” which belongs to that old stand-by genre: the buddy-cop story. Apart from being given free rein to use every slapstick joke, buddy-cop films are allowed to start their own clan, consisting of sequels spawned at (what feels like) the rate of one every 18 months.

“Hollywood Homicide” is destined to fulfill all these requirements. Just by looking at the title, you feel compelled to ask about the pitter-pattering little feet of sequels 1 and 2, perhaps even going up to 4. It’s an impregnated title. What’s more, Harrison seems quite comfortable in this role, with the air of a guy easing into a La-Z Boy positioned in front of the TV just before Monday Night Football. He seems to be saying, ” ‘Hollywood Homicide’ won’t go down as one of my most brilliant efforts, but so what?” before swigging a beer. Indeed, the film affords him a break (he can do this blindfolded) while letting him do what he does best: wisecracking, running and fighting evil armed with just one small gun. He’s still Harrison Ford, the sweet guy next door who’s adept at everything from chasing lost arks to being chased by Tommy Lee Jones.

He can also play a middle-aged guy who’s a tad irritated. Director Ron Shelton shrewdly cast Josh Hartnett (“Virgin Suicides,” “Pearl Harbor”) to play Harrison’s younger buddy/protege who, with his dark-haired, twinkle-eyed boyish charm evokes the Harrison of 20 years ago. But paired with the Harrison of today, he has the distinct advantage of being a whole lot cuter. Maybe Ford’s realization of this is the main reason why he’s a bit pissed off throughout the film? Or maybe it’s another aspect of a midlife crisis.

During the opening sequence, Harrison’s character sends his younger partner off to buy a cheeseburger (“Medium rare, pickle, onion and ketchup only. No mayo, you understand?”) just as they prepare to investigate a murder scene. Now that’s mean.

That aside, the pair work hard to fan the flames between them (the buddy-cop chemistry is just as crucial as a love story) and while it never becomes a raging fire, there’s enough spark to fuel the film until its cheerful (and sequel-inviting) ending.

The rest of the story has its own diversions. As suits the title, the funny bone of “Hollywood Homicide” is Los Angeles and its different modes of existence. Ford’s character, Joe Gavilan, moonlights as a real-estate agent (he took weekend seminars at the Airport Hilton) so he can pay alimony to his three ex-wives and is always fielding or making calls about possible deals. Hartnett’s K.C. Calden is that quintessential L.A. dude: vegetarian/yoga instructor/aspiring actor. K.C. is only doing police work to pay the bills and because his dad had been a cop who died on the job. Juggling these extracurricular activities and still finding time to court girlfriends or talk to informants, it’s little wonder that the pair’s cell phones are always ringing, slashing right through the dialogue or awkwardly ending scenes.

The story always seems on the verge of splintering off and merging into other personalities — which could be a comment on the whole L.A. state of mind, but in this case one would appreciate a bit less schizophrenia. I mean, Joe, gun in one hand, will be chasing a murder suspect while in the other he’s talking on his phone to a client who’s interested in beachfront property (“gorgeous 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom, and a steal at $6.5 mill”) and dodging bullets from some gangland types that want him dead and making eyes at a cute chick who happens to ride in the same elevator. In L.A., guys like him live right next door, apparently.