"Dirty Harry" by any other name . . . .
If it weren't for a couple of fairly amazing stunt sequences and Clint Eastwood's performance - the veteran actor is clearly enjoying himself here - "The Rookie," a routine, by-the-numbers action yarn, wouldn't have anything to recommend it.Eastwood directed and stars as a do-things-my-own-way cop out to bust high-rolling car thief Raul Julia, operator of a string of chop shops. Julia's bodyguard/girlfriend is the nearly mute, karate-chopping Sonia Braga (who last teamed with Julia in "Moon Over Parador").
But if Julia is Eastwood's nemesis as the film begins, he really becomes an object of revenge when Eastwood and his partner are about to make a major bust and things go awry - leading to a terrific, if not remotely plausible, chase sequence on an L.A. freeway.
Soon Eastwood is teamed up with angst-ridden rookie Charlie Sheen, who is estranged from his wealthy father (Tom Skerritt) and is living with his devoted girlfriend (Lara Flynn Boyle, Donna on TV's "Twin Peaks").
And it's the overly familiar odd-couple cop-partners device warmed over once again.
About halfway through, however, the film switches gears as Julia tries to hold up a casino, is foiled by Eastwood and manages to get the drop on him. Soon he's demanding $2 million from the city or Eastwood is dead.
This gives Sheen an opportunity to take over the movie for most of the second half (a commercial maneuver if ever there was one) as he tries to rescue his partner and prove himself.
The relationship between Eastwood and Sheen is workable, though Sheen seems to be slogging through this one instead of delivering a performance, and the script really overworks the idea of jokes playing off earlier lines and situations - everything is telegraphed here.
Most of the characters come off as caricatures and especially disappointing are the villains played by Julia and Braga, two very good Latin actors who seem oddly cast as Germans. Julia's accent in particular is very bizarre and he occasionally spouts racist epithets that have no real dramatic point, making them seem forced and tasteless.
But some of the action scenes are first rate, especially that freeway chase near the beginning and an exploding building toward the end, both credited to Eastwood's second-unit director Buddy Van Horn.
It's always seemed rather odd to me that Eastwood can direct movies of substance, such as "Bird" and "White Hunter, Black Heart," then switch to action pictures and not give them any of the same kind of depth. "The Rookie" seems especially artificial. At 121 minutes, it's also about 30 minutes too long.
It is rated R for violence, drugs, profanity, vulgarity and a surprisingly graphic sex scene that makes for one of the movie's more oddly ill-conceived moments.