Question: If you’re a cop movie coasting on a dynamic central performance, how fast do you need to move to hide the fact that plot-wise, you’re little more than a bargain-basement Training Day? The reliably terrific Naomie Harris — Miss Moneypenny in the last three Bond films and a knockout as the junkie mom in the Oscar-winning Moonlight — stars as Alicia West, a rookie African-American police officer working her first three weeks on the beat in New Orleans. We first meet this army veteran, who has a tour of duty in Afghanistan under her belt, out for a pre-work jog when a pair of racist white cops start hassling her. They only let her go when her ID reveals she’s one of them.
Harris is so good in the role that it’s crushing to see how director Deon Taylor (The Intruder) and screenwriter Peter A. Dowling (Reasonable Doubt) let her down by forcing her to obey some stereotype-driven rules. West decides to help her white partner (Veep‘s Reid Scott) by taking his night shift with hardnosed older officer Deacon Brown (James Moses Black). Though her sexist new partner tells her to wait in the car, she snoops around an abandoned building. West then finds him assisting psycho undercover cop Terry Malone (Frank Grillo, overdoing it) and his lethal henchman (Beau Knapp) in executing a young, black drug informant. She gets it all on her bodycam when they start firing at her. The hunt is on as the wounded West races to download the footage at her precinct before her brothers in blue — white and black — rush to finish her off before she can expose their corruption.
That’s the movie. And to say you’ve seen it all before is an understatement. Harris has a few sizzling moments with Darius (Mike Colter), the local drug kingpin, and Mouse (Tyrese Gibson, excellent), a local store owner who knows that helping his former friend on the force is the surest way to get himself killed. The simmering tension between West and the locals who feel she’s betrayed her kind by joining the NOLA police force is just another one of the film’s potentially resonant themes that the script stubbornly refuses to develop. The great cinematographer Dante Spinotti (Heat, L.A. Confidential) labors hard to reflect the visual artistry of those two crime classics. But Black and Blue, hyped by Geoff Zanelli’s pumping score, moves along without actually getting anywhere. Harris deserves better. So do audiences.