Hollywood is cruel, giving so many a taste, before chewing them up and spitting them out on some anonymous DVD on some forlorn rental shelf. You've got a few names in your mind right now, actors seemingly destined for greatness, or even just a middling career - people you liked - forced to deal with lingering fame and lower paychecks, doing what to us looks like piecework. Chris Klein is on that list; a Keanu-clone with just a bit more range. Election gave way to American Pie and somehow inclusion in that cheesy, rude and generally fatal comedy franchise put the brakes on his capital 'C' career. Now he's anchoring forgettable fare like Caught In The Crossfire with only a poorly used 50 Cent to keep him company.
Klein's detective Briggs, and partner Shepherd (Adam Rodriguez) are caught up in a convoluted, time-twisting case of gangs, drugs, betrayal and corrupt cops; common, fool-proof elements of crime drama. Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson is their unwilling inside man, possibly able to provide valuable information on an apparent gang war that just might be engineered by the boys in blue. Fool-proof elements, as I say, except that Brian A. Miller's convoluted script and direction render the drama first compelling, then aggravating, while Klein provides validation of his flagging career.
Flashing back and forward in time, revealing and concealing facts with abandon, the movie sort of wallows in an ugly sodium-vapor haze - the light from seedy streetlights in seedy parts of town. However, frequent, bifurcated trips to an interrogation room - wherein Briggs and Shepherd tell their differing versions of events - instead soak in sickly, formaldehyde greens. The atmosphere is counter-productively unpleasant. And coupled with a clunky narrative structure and even clunkier acting, Caught In The Crossfire earns its straight-to-DVD status.
Crossfire loses all hope somewhere in the middle. Maybe sensing that he's losing control of the script, Miller stops the movie cold, on a bridge, for a little catch-up. As Klein and Rodriguez stand seething, 50 stiffly reads his script for 5 minutes straight, carefully outlining everything that's happened so far, everything the audience desperately wants to grasp. It's disconcerting watching Jackson struggle to throw some gangster-mean into the mix, but with pedagogy this obvious, there's no hope for him. At least he's trying. But as much as I want to like Klein as a human, his merciless gnawing on this parboiled script is more than anyone can tolerate. Just when you think Klein might bring some subtext to his character, he's off on another vein-popping tirade of pseudo-anger and grit, confusing extremely deliberate enunciation with depth. He bites into his lines as if they were Marathon Bars. (Oldsters will remember these impossible to chew braided caramel candy bars.) It's a powerfully misguided performance, providing the final nail in this noir coffin.
As crooked cop capers go, Crossfire ranks pretty low. Attempts at chronology bending and misdirection make for more difficult slogging than is merited by this fairly inconsequential crime drama. When you add in 50's clumsy halftime analysis, you get a movie that really misses the mark. What should be compelling feels like busywork, with only Klein's leaden histrionics (don't try this at home - Ed.) to provide some comic relief. I'm pretty sure that's not what they were going for.