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By Colin Covert, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

“Rampart” is a character study of a very bad character. Woody Harrelson plays Dave Brown, a Vietnam vet and reprehensible cop in L.A.’s notoriously corrupt Rampart division, circa 1999.

Cruising the city alone, Dave is as paranoid as Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” but with more reason. They really are out to get him, because he provoked them into it. He’s a pill-popping shakedown artist who kills citizens he thinks have it coming. When he’s caught on tape savagely beating a hit-and-run driver who bashed his squad car, prosecutors make him a fall guy. They plan to sacrifice him to appease a public disgusted by the precinct’s long history of misconduct. Dave doesn’t like that plan.

“Rampart” is a narrative mess, but Harrelson’s searing performance is the scarred, flayed connective tissue that holds it together. Director Owen Moverman wrote the script with tough-guy crime novelist James Ellroy, and while it wanders far afield, they’ve given us a pip of an antihero.

Dave has two ex-wives (sisters, no less) who want him to stop coming around. Though he routinely ends the evening in a hotel bed with a strange woman, Dave insists to his two daughters that his priority is “keeping the family together.” The kids, baffled by their relationship as half-sisters and cousins, can do without Dave’s idea of togetherness.

Harrelson is mesmerizing as a man high on the fumes of his own self-importance. In verbal duels with a deputy D.A. and a police internal-affairs investigator (Sigourney Weaver and Ice Cube, in solid performances) he deploys hyperbolic tongue-lashings that zap like a Taser.

Plot shortcomings aside (like, there isn’t one), “Rampart” is a riveting portrait of a dinosaur unaware that he’s waist-deep in the La Brea Tar Pits.



3 stars

Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence.

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