The rotten cops in the baroque urban downer drama Dirty treat their hometown of Los Angeles like hell. Literally, like a place of damnation, where all hope is lost, and no boundaries separate those sworn to uphold the law from those who break it. Of course, because this is movie SoCal, and crooked LAPD partners Salim Adel (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Armando Sancho (Clifton Collins Jr.) patrol streets that have already received memorable lessons in visual style from Training Day, Crash, and Collateral, hell is paved with edgy, desaturated colors, jittery camera swings, nervous flashbacks, and fancy image pushing; in this art-designed dystopia, every gangster’s got style. (Wyclef Jean and the hip-hopper Taboo play kingpins.) But at the end of the antiheroes’ ropes, at the end of writer-director Chris Fisher’s genre exercise, guns have been drawn, blood has been spilled, cops have been thwarted from going straight, and nothing has changed.
That’s the real hell of Dirty, the sin that damns it to inconsequence: Nuthin’ affects nobody, from the gangs running dope to the antigang unit’s brutal street tactics to the top brass (Keith David and Cole Hauser) who simultaneously offer Adel and Sancho protection and set them up. Everything’s window dressing. Much is made (at least between themselves) of the fact that the duo in blue consists of ”a bean and a nigger” — Sancho himself is a former gang member while Adel is simply an amoral mofo with a taste for boosting the expensive gadgets of the citizens he waylays. (He also sexually molests a female motorist while her male companion looks on helplessly, a play of degradation that feels cribbed from the Crash handbook.) But when the florid speeches of volcanic rage and frustration draw to a close — and when Collins (the memorable Perry Smith in Capote) and Gooding (an actor here reinvigorated by the indie-film chance to hurl obscenities after a run of studio pap) complete their acting exercises — we still have no clue who these men are and what sent them down their intersecting moral dark alleys.
”This is the day, cuz,” Adel assures Sancho, the two of them jawing about making one last big splash before getting out of the racket. Nope, in the smog of Dirty, this is just a day.