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Embracing Convention

Embracing Convention (photo)

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It’s unfair, perhaps, but inevitable that every cop movie made post-“Wire” draws comparison to the now-legendary HBO series, just as it’s unfair and inevitable that every one of them falls short. Arguably the best show to ever grace television screens, “The Wire” set a new bar for subtle, taut explication that both challenged and rewarded its audience more than anything else has before or since. More than that, it proved that a serial TV show provided the best medium for the kind of long-tail slow burn that police stories, with their precarious dance between tedium and melodrama, require.

So some of why “Brooklyn’s Finest,” about three Brownsville cops at the end of their respective ropes, fails is to no fault of its own. The high stakes necessitated by a two-hour film — the quickly ratcheted-up tension; the large caliber confrontations; the big names brought in to achieve serious funding — can feel tinny and unearned in a genre that requires great understatement and even greater humbleness to avoid devolving into a bramble of histrionics and laughable postures. That said, the most egregious sins committed in “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua’s newest are specific to the film itself.

03032010_BrooklynsFinest9.jpgTake the plot, an unabashedly hackneyed pastiche of police drama conventions: A dirty narcotics cop with a heart of gold, Sal (an especially feral Ethan Hawke) may be dipping into forbidden tills, but it’s because he’s desperate to finance a new home for his ever-growing family; detective Clarence “Tango” (Don Cheadle) has been working undercover for so long that his loyalty is divided between the drug dealers he runs with and the force, whose racism is drawn in too-broad strokes; patrol officer Eddie (Richard Gere) has just one more week to survive on the job before retirement, but it may be one week too long.

It’s not a film’s job to reinvent its genre, of course, but Fuqua compensates for the unimaginative setups with a queasy, unrelenting progression of tension. Gone are the diegetic soundtracks of You Know What or even the more mainstream hip hop bombast that underscores most contemporary action films. Instead, violins wail, slightly off-key, in an increasingly loud, funereal procession. Interiors and exteriors alike are claustrophobically narrow and grimy, teeming with litter and Brownsville bacteria, and are filtered through a bilious green that pools in the wrinkles and shadows tattooing characters’ faces.

You know you’re in trouble when hyperbolic Wesley Snipes, as Tango’s drug dealer pal Caz, turns in a relatively understated performance. Though he doesn’t have much to work with, Cheadle does his always-solid best — widening his eyes with annoyance rather than fear or grief in a more fluid variation on his standard misunderstood characters (he’s never looked so handsome before, either).

03032010_BrooklynsFinest2.jpgBut Gere and Hawke are so actorly. A cop who drinks first thing in the morning and has never risen above patrolman would scarcely radiate the intensity Gere seems incapable of tamping down; the man blinks as if acid were searing his eyes. And Hawke explodes in every scene, shaking with the pressures that seems to have burnt all the flesh off his skull. Throughout his career, his broody emotionality has never read as phony so much as sincerely self-aggrandizing. Here, it connects with nothing, reminding us in turn that the film does not connect with its audience. “I don’t want God’s forgiveness,” he roars. “I want his fucking help!” So do we.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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