Have you ever been driving home from a good action movie, be it "Ronin" or "Star Wars," and noticed a slight change in your driving? Soon, you're thinking about how you would have handled that X-Wing fighter or that Porsche.
You speed up a notch, looking for your opening to dart through to victory ...
I'm speaking hypothetically, of course, not from experience. I stuck to the speed limit on the way home from "The Corruptor." Yes, it contains a car chase that may well be known as a classic some day, but this one is more terrifying than thrilling.
In "The Corruptor," director James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross") stages a chase that shows the carnage that would result if cops raced through urban streets chasing the bad guys with guns blazing and engines roaring. Fruit stands would not be the primary casualties.
But "The Corruptor" is not primarily an action movie. Believe it or not, this second major Hollywood vehicle for Hong Kong action icon Chow Yun-Fat is at its best as a character study of a flawed cop given a chance for redemption.
The star plays Nick Chen, a legendary New York City police officer, and head of the Asian Gang Unit. But rather than merely enforcing the law, Chen is corruptly taking the side of the more traditional Triads run by "Uncle Benny" Wong (Kim Chan, who, oddly enough, played a similar character called "Uncle Benny" in "Lethal Weapon 4"), the Chinatown Godfather, and his top lieutenant, Henry Lee (Ric Young), against a nihilistic, bullet-spraying street gang, the Fukanese Dragons.
Enter the latest detective to be assigned to the AGU, Danny Wallace (Mark Wahlberg of "Boogie Nights"). At first, Chen is aghast at the bureaucratic bungling that would lead to a white officer being assigned to operate in a Chinatown gang unit. "He's worse than white, he's green!" he sputters to his boss.
But as the two begin to work cases, Chen begins to respect his new young partner - both for his street smarts, and for his idealism and integrity. When Henry Lee approaches Chen to recruit Danny, he not only resists, but makes a Faustian bargain with Lee to stay away from Danny.
But Lee makes his own offer to Danny. Taking the same road, we find out, that he did with Chen, offering to help Danny put bad guys behind bars - as long as it's Lee's competitors. Danny takes the bait. Lee further insinuates himself into Danny's life by protecting his drunken father (Brian Cox, in yet another good small role) from Mafia loan sharks trying to collect a gambling debt.
Chen resolves to set things straight, to rescue Danny from Lee's clutches. What he doesn't know is that Danny also has a hidden agenda, and even when the audience finds out what it is, we still are not sure if Danny has compromised himself.
At its best, "The Corruptor" examines issues of loyalty, honor, courage, compromise and redemption. It clearly illustrates how doing the wrong thing for "right" reasons, and even doing right things the wrong way can be a slippery slope that leads to corruption - or to anarchy.
Chow Yun-Fat displays the unpredictable charisma and the physical grace that made him the biggest star in Asia (next to Jackie Chan). Wahlberg's quieter, almost bookish performance makes him a good foil, and the two form the convincing bond necessary to make the story and its dilemmas work.
Some of the action scenes are too over-the-top for a movie aspiring to this level of moral weight, and the climatic shoot out, while it contains a vital chance at redemption, is routine.
Director Foley has fashioned a sometimes uneasy shotgun wedding between a John Woo-type action flick and a Sidney Lumet-style Big Apple cop drama. It may not always be a smooth ride, but "The Corruptor" is definitely smarter than the average cop buddy flick.