Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Training Day Still Needs Its Training Wheels When It Comes To Handling The Concept Of Consistency

It's interesting that Antoine Fuqua and David Ayer would team up for Training Day, since the duo seem like two birds of a feather in their directorial efforts. Both filmmakers tend to helm projects that are heavily action-oriented that so blatantly bask in the most overt bro-tastic concept of masculinity, their movies tend to become the cinematic equivalent of Steven Seagal bench-pressing Jeremy Piven while listening to Nickelback. For the 2001 motion picture Training Day, Fuqua takes on directing duties (this was only his third time directing a feature film) while Ayer handles the duties of screenwriting.

The story the duo are telling is one that takes place over the course of a single day, following Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) learning how to be a narcotics officer under the guidance of the most unorthodox mentor figure Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). And for the first half of the movie following these two characters around is about as interesting as watching paint dry, despite Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke doing all they can with the roles in this section of the motion picture. Every plot point seen just feels so derivative of every cop movie ever made and it honestly looks like, at this point in the proceedings, Training Day is yet another example of director Antoine Fuqua relying too heavily on movies of the past and never bringing his own sense of originality to his work (remember how the filmmaker's 2015 effort Southpaw was basically every boxing movie cliche executed in a manner that was the very definition of rote?).

But then, finally, the movie gets interesting halfway through when it's revealed that Alonzo is far more sinister and desperate than he appears to be. Turns out Alonzo owes the Russian mob a ton of cash and he's willing to murder an unarmed man in order to get the boatload of cash said unarmed individual has. This leaves Jake understandably sickened, especially Alonzo leaves Jake feeling cornered, unable to tell people in positions of higher authority about these atrocities due to the lack of witnesses and the fact that Alonzo has numerous police officers comrades willing to vouch for his innocence.

Now here we go, here's some interesting character related drama that allows for intense shoot-outs and the two lead performers to truly flex their acting muscles! Denzel Washington seems to be particularly pleased with the chance to play a more antagonistic character than usual and he does a commendable job portraying Alonzo's slowly-escalating sense of despair as the story goes along. Hell, Antoine Faqua's direction, which really came off as super sloppy in the first half of the movie, even seems to become noticeably better in this part of the film. Plus, the back half of Training Day even offers the chance to see Terry Crews in one of his earlier film roles!

The pulse-pounding nature of the second half of Training Day doesn't excuse its exceedingly dull first half though, on the contrary, it just compounds the numerous flaws that drag down this portion of the movie. It seems like David Ayer was trying to make the first half of the story a normal cop movie that gets subverted by the darker second half, but surely there could have been a way to at least make the earlier section of Training Day even remotely entertaining. Maybe dive deeper into the characters here or don't do super stylized things (like Alonzo pointing a loaded gun at a nearby driver on a packed street, which seems to warrant no attention whatsoever) that don't gel at all with the explicitly realistic aesthetic Training Day is trying to present.

If you can get through the massive slog that is the first half of Training Day, you'll be rewarded with a pretty entertaining cat-and-mouse cop thriller led by two strong lead performances. Unfortunately, getting through that first half is an extremely trying task and even the second half isn't devoid of pretty puzzling flaws (some gangsters that abduct Ethan Hawke's characters, one of which is played by Cliff Curtis, are some really uncomfortable Hispanic stereotypes). The fact that there's anything entertaining here makes this better than the absolute nadir of Antoine Fuqua's work (which would be the dreadfully boring and cheap-looking Olympus Has Fallen A.K.A. the non-fun version of White House Down), but it's still a disappointingly inconsistent feature.

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