“Black and Blue” succeeds as a cop movie: It ratchets up suspense and gives us a young-but-tough rookie officer to root for.
The main problem with “Black and Blue” is that it also wants to make statements about the racial minefield of 21st-century policing in America. That’s shakier ground.
Our central figure is Alicia West (Naomie Harris, late of “Moonlight”), the rookie. She grew up in a rough New Orleans neighborhood, did a couple of stretches in Afghanistan, and now patrols the streets of her hometown.
Things go bad one morning when she witnesses some crooked cops shoot people in the middle of an illicit deal. Because her bodycam recorded the scene, she’s got a target on her back, and she doesn’t know which of her uniformed colleagues she can trust.
The big dilemma in Peter A. Dowling’s script is that when Alicia tries to find refuge within her own African-American community — including people she grew up with — they aren’t exactly welcoming.
She has a badge and a gun, and they’ve seen too many examples of bad policing in their world. That’s a decent set-up for a film, and when it sticks to its tense plot (Alicia is also wounded, which makes the time element more urgent), the story clicks right along.
Help comes in the form of a wary local guy (Tyrese Gibson, of the “Fast and Furious” world), who needs to settle his own mind when it comes to helping out a policewoman. Others, including Alicia’s childhood friend (Nafessa Williams, from the TV series “Black Lightning”), are not so generous.
Director Deon Taylor, who did the over-the-top “The Intruder,” captures an eerie urban milieu. The streets in this neighborhood look all but abandoned, as though Hurricane Katrina had swept through and stripped the place of its distinguishing features.
If only “Black and Blue” could stick to its immediate business, it might raise interesting issues along the way. But its tendency toward overstatement gets more flagrant as it goes along, even to the point of the villain getting a big speech that explains his corrupt motives.
Frank Grillo is stuck in that generic role, and he can’t find much to do with it. Faring better is Mike Colter (from “Luke Cage”), as an inner-city crime boss — another generic part, but at least the actor breathes life into the cliches.
The draw is Naomie Harris, the English actress who bounces from smallish movies to franchise things (including an ongoing stint as Miss Moneypenny in the current James Bond run). Harris long ago earned the right to carry a big movie, and she goes from quiet fury to large-scale frenzy without missing a beat. She’s a secure center in an otherwise uneven film.
“Black and Blue” (2½ stars)
A rookie cop (Naomie Harris) witnesses police corruption, and must hide in a New Orleans black community — but the locals aren’t keen on helping a policewoman, even one from the old neighborhood. This film works as a cop movie, but tries too hard to make grand statements about race in America. With Tyrese Gibson.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Everett Stadium, Marysville, Oak Tree, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall