Certain ingredients are essential to gritty cop dramas. Especially for the ones that blur the lines between protagonist and antagonist by having an anti-hero be the central character. In recent films and TV shows, the anti-hero has been on the steady rise, from Walter White in “Breaking Bad” to Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” so now seems the right time for a film like Josh C. Waller‘s “McCanick.” But when placing this film into its particular genre—unavoidable thanks to the film’s overuse of every single ingredient—the mind immediately recalls narcotic detective dramas like “Training Day” and “Narc.” Unfortunately for Waller and David Morse, who plays the titular detective and has clearly invested enough in the film to get an executive producer cred, comparisons to any film of its kind are not too friendly. They only serve to prove how much better other films are in handling every single aspect of what makes an anti-heroic cop drama be the gripping slice of raw life the genre aims for.
Morse plays Eugene “Mack” McCanick and the opening shots of the film, which see him preparing for work on an average morning, are handled in such a subdued and controlled manner it seems to be preparing the viewer for a complex and dark character study. The loneliness and a heavy weight on the shoulders of McCanick are made apparent through a few visually captivating shots. When we find out a few scenes later that today is Mack’s birthday, these earlier shots become all the more potent in hindsight. As he drives toward work, and has friendly chats with locals on the way, a sense of comfort begins to settle into hopes for something great. Arriving at the office, his telephone conversation about a dinner reservation starts to pepper the emotional touches into a brusque persona. In the background, his partner Floyd (Mike Vogel) discusses the surly qualities of the veteran detective with his girlfriend, as if talking about an old dog that’s got too much bite for its own good. Their boss, Quinn (Ciarin Hinds), comes in to say a few words on account of Mack’s birthday and adds a touch of gravitas, thanks to Hinds’ gift for effortlessly commanding attention. So far, so good. However, this false beginning comes to a screeching halt when Mack finds out that a certain Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith, in his final role) has been released from prison. He storms into Quinn’s office, slams the door and demands the to know the meaning of this.
Like a thief who has been stealthy enough not to trip the alarm, the film’s first moments almost succeed in stealing the viewers’ attention. But once Mack bursts into that office and the subsequent pissing contest with his boss, alarm bells start to ring before the thief has reached the front door. The scene is the first of many cliches that ultimately end up asphyxiating this whole picture, as almost everything that happens after is a long and hard tumble down the hole of convention. Through flashbacks, we find out that Mack was once investigating the murder of a senator, and came into contact with Weeks in order to question him the whereabouts of the prime suspect. Back then, Weeks was a male prostitute and a social outcast with no family. Swinging back and forth between the present and the past, the viewer gets glimpses of a kind of father-son relationship developing between Mack and Simon. Much of the conflict lies in this clear disconnect between the gentle friendliness seen in the past scenes, and the dogged determinism to find and destroy Simon Weeks in the present. Ignoring Quinn’s direct orders to stay away form Weeks, Mack takes matters into his own hands and finds a way to involve his partner into looking for “the man who killed a senator.”Much of the film is constructed around the suspense of what exactly Mack plans to do with Weeks once he finds him and, more importantly, what happened between these two. Trouble is, those alarm bells never stop ringing, and by the time the “twist” occurs, extreme annoyance and an inescapable sense of wasted time blur the vision and make any semblance of character, point or plot hard to see.
Around the midway point, after enough doors have been slammed and plenty of uncontrolled outbursts punctuated scenes with exaggerated emotion, “McCanick” almost started to feel like a parody. It was like watching a live-action film feature version of “The Simpsons” cop show “McGarnagle”—taking itself way too seriously, with none of the self-deprecating humour or entertainment. A story of a corrupt cop with a dark secret who doesn’t follow the rules is a very familiar character, and “McCanick” is an ultimate failure because it makes no attempt to stand out. Instead, they take the genre’s most used ingredients—an immoral cop with a short temper who has alienated his whole family, a wet-behind-the-ears young partner, a story that takes you to the dirtiest corners of the city where the biggest degenerates live, and a screenplay filled to the brim with badly recycled lines like “all cops are dirty… just like assholes”—leaving the picture burnt to a tasteless crisp. The only glimmer of faint light is Cory Monteith’s Simon, who is ambiguous enough to be semi-interesting and is played with a genuine sense of vulnerability. Unfortunately, by the film’s closing moments even this character is forced into stale submission by a stilted story and an overwrought plot. Just thinking about it is enough to make any true fan of the cop genre angry.
Morse’s physical presence plays a positive role with “McCanick” because it adds to the uncouth exterior without need for a single word. The trouble comes with the dialogue written for “McCanick.” It’s as stale and unstimulated as anything else in the whole picture, ultimately bringing down a great actor’s performance to the lower depths of conformity. Any movie dealing with a central anti-hero is that depends on that character being interesting enough, with enough grey area to his personality to invite the viewer in. The alluring charm from the confidence these immoral characters exhibit can make them fascinating to watch. But none of those characteristics are present with Eugene “McCanick,” and the biggest culprits are Daniel Noah‘s indolent script and the aimless waywardness in Waller’s direction. “McCanick” may have worked as Chief Wiggum’s favorite film in “The Simpsons,” but as a feature film in the real world it fails to convince, and succeeds only in frustrating. [D-]