(R) 3 1/2 stars Our lives are filled with great speeches left unsaid. One of the joys of film is listening to our fictional counterparts dazzle those around them with grand outpourings of perfectly chosen words.
Bull Durham, written and directed by Dark Blue director Ron Shelton, features one of the most memorable speeches in movie history, as a middle-aged, minor league baseball player, challenged by a sexually aggressive woman to tell her what he believes in, states, "I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman"s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf in the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days." Funny thing about the speech: Ron Shelton doesn"t like it. He considers it false and says he only included it because he knew that name actors would find it hard to resist. He was right. The screenplay snagged Kevin Costner, who gave one of the best performances of his career, and was particularly good delivering the speech, capping it perfectly with a self-satisfied cackle after leaving the woman"s house. Shelton may disdain the speech, but viewers loved it. Sure, it is highly unlikely that anyone in real life could be that quick-witted and glib, but we go to the movies, in part, for wish fulfillment, and who wouldn"t love to floor someone with that kind of wordplay? In the context of Bull Durham, it was a perfect fit. Though the film"s settings exuded a pleasant sense of funky realism, the dialogue, from beginning to end, was firmly rooted in Movie Land. Which brings us to Dark Blue. The drama about bad cops offers Kurt Russell a grandiose movie speech about 20 times longer than the classic Bull Durham diatribe and Russell pulls it off - quite a feat. The screenplay was written by David Ayer (Training Day), based on a story by cult fave James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) and I"d love to hear Shelton"s thoughts on the speech, as it is easily as unlikely as the one in Bull Durham. Dark Blue is a strong film with trouble maintaining its footing. The story is set in the real world, specifically in 1992 Los Angeles, as the city awaits the results of the trial of the police officers that beat Rodney King. Shelton establishes a sense of brutal realism, but the dialogue slips over to Movie Land at the most inopportune times. That and a sense of being overly familiar (didn"t L.A. Confidential and Training Day already cover this?) are the main liabilities. The main asset is Kurt Russell, who is extraordinary as Eldon Perry, a swaggering alcoholic-soaked bigot in a police uniform. Russell, one of the most underrated actors of his generation, says and does unspeakably vile things, but manages to keep his character fascinating rather than simply repellent, without ever even faintly excusing the man"s behavior. Watch him closely - his choices as an actor are as interesting and successful as Denzel Washington"s in the similar Training Day. Especially good are the scenes with Perry"s wife, Sally (an underused Lolita Davidovich). Perry"s partner is Bobby Keough (Scott Speedman, plowed into the background by Russell"s performance), an idealistic junior detective whose uncle, Jack Van Meter (a very scary Brendan Gleeson), is the leader of the cabal of crooked officers. The kid doesn"t know what to do; he wants the approval of his uncle, his partner and the other good old boys, but these cowboys are casually acting as judges, juries and executioners. Ving Rhames plays Arthur Holland, the deputy police chief out to bring down the bad cops. Rhames shades his character nicely, displaying just enough quirks and flaws to make Holland seem like a real man instead of an avenging angel. Holland"s assistant, and ex-lover, is no-nonsense idealist Sgt. Beth Williamson (Michael Michelle), who is currently seeing young Keough on a no-names-just-sex-and-fun basis. How very, very convenient. Dark Blue has a number of disturbing scenes (the post-verdict riot reenactment is particularly hard to look at), as it swings between drama and contrivance. But, just as with the equally problematic Training Day, the film warrants a look, thanks to a towering lead performance. See this movie and be reminded that, yes, Kurt Russell really is that good.