Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day cannily plays against expectations of the interracial police thriller. We trust Denzel Washington’s venal street cop, Alonzo Harris, because he’s played by a magnetic movie star, and because American cinema often tells us that authoritarian narcissists are the only kind of police who can truly get the job done. By the end of the film, however, it’s revealed that Alonzo is an operatic monster, a boogeyman conjured by the festering resentments existing between all races in Los Angeles, as well as the rest of the country. Alonzo is a mixture of O.J. Simpson and Dirty Harry, while Ethan Hawke’s Jake Hoyt, initially ridiculed as a naïf, is allowed to show inventiveness and daring that’s rare for optimistic cops in lurid entertainment.
By contrast, CBS’s Training Day represents dull and reprehensible business as usual for the cops-and-robbers genre. The races of the partners at the center of the narrative have been reversed, mooting the ambiguity of the film, which hinges on a subtext of disreputable karma. To put it bluntly, Alonzo Harris dishes out the punishment that blacks have been accustomed to weather without recourse throughout American history.
LAPD Detective Frank Rourke (Bill Paxton) is yet another Caucasian officer with a reputation for playing by his own rules. He lacks Harris’s ferocity though, as it’s clear that the writers don’t trust viewers to follow a Machiavellian sociopath for an hour a week for three-and-a-half months. Rourke is a toothless bad boy who encourages audiences to rail without hesitation against laws that handcuff police from utilizing practices such as torture and blackmail, which he embraces in scenes that are often played as comedy. In case we miss the point, Rourke sarcastically rues the verdict of Miranda v. Arizona, while electrocuting a bad guy with a rigged-up antique telephone.
Rourke’s partner, Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell), is a promising up-and-comer who’s obsessed with solving the death of his father, who was, of course, Rourke’s partner. Because he takes the legal limitations of his profession seriously, Craig is predictably caricatured as a humorless prig, an insufferable straight arrow who will gradually bend to his trainer’s rock-star methods. The partners’ maddeningly obvious contrasts even extend to their senses of fashion. Rourke favors slobby outlaw chic, with the requisite tight T-shirt underneath an open button-up with a stylish leather jacket and perfectly worn-in jeans, while Craig is so pressed and annoyingly immaculate that one’s compelled to wonder if he irons his socks.
This Training Day is steeped in clichés so embarrassingly retrograde that it suggests John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero played with a straight face. At one point, Rourke actually turns toward the camera and tells Craig, with an earnestly sideways face, that he’s “been doing this a long time, maybe too long.” Paxton, a charismatic actor, utters such nonsense with a delivery so pregnant that you can’t quite tell if he’s deliberately having fun with the material or not. Occasionally, the dialogue is so ridiculous that it’s fair to assume the creators are in on the joke, such as when Rourke advises Craig that “police work is like sex: It’s a lot more effective when it isn’t pretty,” or when a yakuza bellows, “Konichiwa, ass-clown!” before charging in for the kill.
Training Day mostly dresses up a typical CBS property with the reputation of an acclaimed production. The series bears less relation to Fuqua’s film than to the networks various similarly themed shows, in which anonymously attractive investigators utter exposition over computers situated in a lab with the requisite ray of sunlight shining through a window replete with a noir-ish fan. CBS crime shows rarely trust an audience to discern any information for themselves, so we’re also treated to obvious and over-scored flashbacks rendered in gaudy slow motion, as well as unremarkably and insecurely frenetic chase scenes. The network utilizes a distinctive thriller as a pretense for mounting yet another version of Criminal Minds.