February 21, 2003
Dark Blue is based on author James Ellroy's first original screenplay, which he wrote under the title Plague Season. Ellroy is a rather prolific writer, with book credits including Black Dahlia, White Jazz, and LA Confidential, which spawned a movie with an Academy Award®-winning screenplay. For a brief look at the author and a film based on his life and work, see Walid Habboub's review of James Ellroy's Feast of Death.
After the script for Plague Season was completed, it languished in development hell for eight years, during which time David Ayer (Training Day, The Fast and the Furious) completed revisions. Once the film went into production, the title was changed to Dark Blue, due to concerns that moviegoers might associate the title with the anthrax scares that were going on across the United States. Under Ron Shelton's directorial guidance, the movie started filming last spring on a budget of $5 million. Shelton is best known as the writer and director of sports films like Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup and Play It to the Bone, and Dark Blue will be his first non-sports-related film since 1989's Blaze.
When Ellroy wrote the screenplay, he wrote the lead character with Kurt Russell in mind. The actor accepted the role of Sgt. Eldon Perry, Jr., an utterly politically-incorrect LAPD detective who comes from a family line of cops. He and his new partner, Bobby Tedrow (Felicity's Scott Speedman) are members of the elite SIS unit, members of which wear pins that designate them as gunfighters. Perry in particular sets up minority suspects for crimes and kills them with ease and little guilt. When cases come up for review, he has no trouble coming through unscathed because an officer with close ties to Perry's father runs the inquiries.
Set in the days of late April 1992, when four white LAPD officers were acquitted for the infamous beating of Rodney King, Perry is in the process of mentoring his young partner, teaching him to strong-arm snitches and suspects to uncover the evidence they need to investigate a racially-charged mass murder that took the lives of a police dispatcher and her little girl. Meanwhile, Assistant Chief Arthur Holland (Ving Rhames), an honest and politically ambitious cop with aspirations to be the first black chief of the LAPD, threatens to put an end to Perry's brand of justice.
Though Dark Blue sounds like an extremely intriguing project that should offer multi-layered twists and turns in the vein of Ellroy's previous work, the fear is that audiences will get a been-there/done-that feel from the film, as the two partners in the story bear more than a passing resemblance to Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day (in fact, there is little doubt that screenwriter Ayer drew inspiration for Training Day as he reworked the script for Dark Blue). Additionally, moviegoers may have a difficult time accepting an actor like Russell as such a vile, contemptible character, which makes the movie a fairly tough sell, particularly since he is not known as a box-office draw. Still, with a budget of only $5 million, MGM should be able to produce a relatively mild little hit if they can market the film wisely. (Kim Hollis/BOP)
Box Office Autopsy
MGM released Dark Blue in February with three other March releases, and the Kurt Russell film did not meet studio or critical expectations. MGM needed something to work early in the year, but they would have to wait until Agent Cody Banks was released a few months later.
Even though the film was made for the low amount of $15 million, the Kurt Russell cop movie could not even make its modest production cost back. Dark Blue opened to $3.9 million from a fairly-wide 2,176 venues, and had a low opening weekend venue average of $1,783. The film faded fast as it made only $367,000 in its third weekend of release. Dark Blue had a final gross of $9.2 million, so any potential revenue on this one would have come from home video and DVD sales.
For Russell, Dark Blue was a big letdown, as the actor has had his struggles recently at the box office. The last film that Kurt opened on his own to any success was 1997's Breakdown, the suspense film that made a surprising $50 million. His expensive misses since have included Dark Blue, Soldier, and the truly awful, 3000 Miles to Graceland. Maybe The Miracle will pay off more for Russell, its more family-friendly and will contain only hockey violence. (John Hamann/BOP)
Comparison films for Dark Blue
|3000 Miles to Graceland
|Usual Suspects, The