Things are really foul out there on L.A.'s mean streets, and a corrupt police force isn't exactly helping the situation. Mexican gangbangers, Canadian drug dealers, skateboarding thieves and two of the rottenest patrol cops you've ever seen: They're all part of the mix in Dirty, director Chris Fisher's stylish, if derivative, dirtbag film. Dirty takes place on the day when gang member turned cop Armando Sancho (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and partner Salim Adel (Cuba Gooding, Jr., giving his best performance in years) are scheduled to testify before Internal Affairs agents investigating brutality and other dirty doings in the city's anti-gang unit. Bothered by the accidental shooting of an innocent man, Sancho is thinking of testifying against his fellow cops, including his hooker- and cocaine-loving partner.
But first, lowlife officers Keith David and Cole Hauser give Sancho and Adel an off-the-books assignment: Take a bag of confiscated dope out of the evidence room and hand it over to a local gangster (Wyclef Jean). The bad guy then offers the cops a split of the proceeds if they'll take down some Canadians who have muscled in on his territory. But-oops!-it turns out the Canucks are being protected by the very gang Sancho used to run with.
Shot in guerrilla style with lots of rapid-fire editing, handheld camera work and washed-out, newsreel-looking film stock, the appropriately titled Dirty is certainly hard-hitting and compelling. Benefiting enormously from location shooting and a top-notch cast, the film often seems like documentary footage from a war zone. But there's also an inevitability about much of the plot, and a familiarity derived from too many episodes of cops-gone-bad TV shows like FX's "The Shield," HBO's "The Wire" and TNT's "Wanted." It's not that this is bad material to draw from. It's just that all those grungy-looking characters, lower-depths locations and unrelieved unpleasantness begin to have a "been there, done that" feel to them.
Still, Dirty is a solid ride, and deserves recognition if only because it affords Gooding-so compelling in Boyz N the Hood and Jerry Maguire-the chance to reaffirm his acting chops. After years of goody-goody roles and idiot comedies, Gooding was becoming a joke. No longer.