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Denzel Washington tantalizes with his corrupt-cop routine in the socially aware action thriller "Training Day."

Blown Away


Arriving in theaters two weeks late — its release postponed out of respect and sensitivity to the mounting tragedy and loss of lives during the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks — Antoine Fuqua's "Training Day" appears unscathed.

At its dark heart remains the flashy, cool and ultracharismatic turn by Denzel Washington. After years of playing heroic goody-two-shoes, Washington jettisons that righteous second skin in favor of a foul-mouthed, hip and voyeuristic walk on the wild side. And he blows us away.

Washington plays corrupt LAPD detective sergeant Alonzo Harris, who attempts to blackmail new department recruit Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) onto his dirty team in one day — one dizzying span of 24 hours that Fuqua and screenwriter David Ayer stuff with danger and sinister motives at every turn. While the action is rough and violence resonates throughout the trying day, the movie's true tension stems from the rising confrontations and provocations between good and evil as personified by Hawke and Washington, respectively.

The unlikely pair is thrown together in the first place because of Hoyt's ambition: He's desperate to make detective. The fastest track to that gold badge is by joining the elite undercover team headed by the near-mythical Harris. To that end, Hoyt is given one day to prove to Harris that he can cut it. True to the rookie cop/buddy flick genre, things do not go smoothly from the outset.

Harris laughs at Hoyt's by-the-book, true-blue idealism, telling him the streets are ugly and it requires a wolf to catch a wolf. Equally, Harris believes a narcotics officer must have that same narcotics rush in his own blood if he's to understand and speak the language of the street dealers and junkies. Before you know it, Harris has our Boy Scout in blue smoking a little LSD-laced weed. After that first small crack in Hoyt's honor, things get out of hand quickly, with Harris breaking the law more than upholding it. Hoyt soon wonders just what level of hell he's lost himself in.

Hawke turns in an OK performance in his thankless Everyman role. He's the bland, honorable guy we're all supposed to identify with. Not surprisingly, the movie's plum role is the bad guy, and Washington owns it. Playing his most morally ambiguous character to date, Washington doesn't merely inhabit Harris' character, he becomes him. In a testament to Washington's scope of talent, we never feel we're watching Denzel be bad. Instead, we get caught up in Washington's finely crafted portrait of a profoundly flawed braggart.

Fuqua keeps "Training Day" crackling with energy and action, and Ayer's script poses some tough questions that for the most part go unanswered. It's up to each of us to decide where the line between right and wrong should be drawn; just where the results outweigh the actions taken.

A tantalizing hybrid, "Training Day" is riveting and intense, offering something for both action fans and those who yearn for a little more philosophical meat to their movies. But it doesn't completely deliver the goods. In fact, all of Washington's gritty glares and intimidating swagger come close to being wasted by the movie's disappointing conclusion. "Training Day's" final 15 minutes unspool with a dizzying number of cliches, contrivances and smart characters acting stupid.

Although the climax lessens the impact of "Training Day's" attempts to entertain as well as enlighten, Washington's electrifying performance makes it all worthwhile.

Movies are rated out of a possible 5

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