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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

'Narc' better than most cop films

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

Ray Liotta and Jason Patric play cops in "Narc," set in Detroit but shot mostly in Toronto because it was a cheaper location.

Paramount Pictures

Though most moviegoers never got past "8 Mile," there was another Detroit movie released last year — well, almost. Joe Carnahan set his low-budget cop drama "Narc" in Detroit, but the producers insisted on taking advantage of Toronto's cheaper dollar and production rebates.

With that, Jason Patric, cast as a damaged detective who reluctantly joins wild-card vet Ray Liotta to find his partner's killer, threatened to bolt. A stickler for authenticity — "Toronto's not Detroit," he told me — Patric stayed on the force only after he was assigned a guerrilla camera crew who spent a couple of days in the city making sure the film had real Detroit grit.

So give Patric credit for the movie's street cred — which, with Carnahan's tough-guy dialogue and deft direction, elevates "Narc" above most contemporary cop movies. It also inspired Tom Cruise to make sure the movie, released this week on DVD (Paramount), got a national release and an Oscar campaign. (Be sure you've picked up the wide-screen version; the full-screen version mutilates Carnahan's careful composition.)

The movie's unlikely promotion from film festivals to megaplex screens is recounted in one of three brief making-of documentaries included on the disc and in the commentary track by the loquacious Carnahan, who will soon direct his patron Cruise in "Mission: Impossible 3."

Hip-hop homicide

You don't have to be a hard-core hip-hop fan to recognize that the plot of the made-for-VH1 "Play'd: A Hip Hop Story" (Artisan) was inspired by the Tupac-Biggie murders. Rashaan Nall stars as an L.A. rapper who gets drawn into a West Coast-East Coast feud by his thuggish producer (played with cigar- and scenery-chewing menace by Faizon Love).

Toni Braxton is barely there in what would appear to be the Faith Evans role, and among the extras is a tribute to Merlin Santana, who played the Tupac part. In yet another senseless incidence of life reflecting art, Santana was murdered in Los Angeles after the film was made.

A little slice of 'Heaven'

From the sad to the sublime: Very few moviegoers were drawn to last year's "Heaven" (Miramax), a drama intended as the first part of a trilogy conceived by the morally minded Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski ("The Decalogue") before his death.

The story of a woman (Cate Blanchett) jailed for an act of terrorism and helped to escape by the shy Italian policeman (Giovanni Ribisi) who comes to love her, "Heaven" was directed by Tom Tykwer in a meditative style very different from his kinetic "Run Lola Run." Critics found it either unbearably pretentious or spiritual and mesmerizing; I was one of the latter.

No extras on the DVD, but the transfer does justice to the film's beautiful depiction of the Italian countryside.

Haunted hijinks, etc.

The hereafter is more comically approached in the new single-disc coupling of "Topper" and "Topper Returns" (Artisan). The 1937 original, in which Cary Grant and Constance Bennett offer a ghostly helping hand to their dull banker pal, Cosmo Topper (Roland Young), is a suave sparkler; the 1941 sequel, in which Cosmo helps specter Joan Blondell solve her own murder, is nearly as good. And not to worry, neither is colorized, as they were on some early VHS releases.

I had neither the time nor much inclination to time-travel through the three-disc "Stargate SG-1: Season 3" box (MGM), but fans — of whom there are many, judging from e-mail — will be happy to know this contains all 24 episodes of the 1999-2000 run.

On the advice of a twisted acquaintance, however, I did check out "Strangers with Candy — Season One" (Comedy Central), a Comedy Central series written by and starring Amy Sedaris as a 46-year-old high school freshman attempting to start over after years as a druggie, drunk and part-time hooker. Utterly tasteless and occasionally hilarious — reunited with her long-lost son, Jerri protests that she didn't give him away, she traded him for a guitar — "Strangers" is at least clever, in contrast to the T&A and pranking of Comedy Central's current lineup.

Incredibly hulky

Finally, for those who want even more than the big-screen version of "Hulk," Universal offers "The Incredible Hulk," a two-disc set of episodes of the live-action TV series, and the feature-length swan song "The Death of the Incredible Hulk," while Buena Vista dredges up episodes of the cartoon version on its own "Incredible Hulk," whose extras include an interview with creator Stan Lee.