Within the first half hour of Training Day, LAPD narcotics detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) steals PCP-laced pot from a perp, forces trainee Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) to smoke it at gunpoint, and lets two rapists go free — and we’re still thinking we like the guy.
In fact, through most of the movie, as Harris teaches Hoyt the tools of his shady trade, we’re not sure whether Harris is a tough-but-effective cop, a la The French Connection’s Popeye Doyle, or a tough-and-psychopathic cop, a la Bad Lieutenant’s bad lieutenant. Washington weaves both archetypes into a stellar, ambiguous, Oscar-nominated performance that drives the film, while Hawke (who also scored an Academy nod) coasts along as the sheepish counterpoint to Washington’s wolf.
There are enough plot twists to keep us guessing until the third act, when the slippery truth about Alonzo comes out and Training Day degenerates into a rote action thriller (complete with illogical plot devices), betraying its promise and training its audience to expect the expected. B-
WHAT WE SAID THEN: ”…a glorified star-image makeover that grows glossier and more monotonous as it goes along.” C- (#616, Sept. 21, 2001)