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November 2006
Harsh Times

by Kam Williams

Harsh Times

Distributor: MGM
Director: David Ayer
Producers: Andrea Sperling & David Ayer
Screenwriter: David Ayer
Cast: Christian Bale, Freddy Rodriguez, Eva Longoria, Terry Crews, Chaka Forman
Rated R for profanity, drug use, and graphic violence.
In English and Spanish with subtitles.
Running time: 120 minutes

Christian Bale and Eva Longoria in Gritty Inner-City Saga

Jim Davis (Christian Bale), a recently-discharged Army veteran, has just returned to L.A. after serving in Iraq. Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and haunted by nightmares of combat duty, Jim’s readjustment to civilian life has been anything but smooth.

First of all, his fiancee, Marta (Tammy Trull), has decided to move back to her native boyfriend, until he is ready to settle down and make her an honest woman. Things don’t look good for Jim on the job front either, because his application to the LAPD seems to keep slipping through the bureaucratic cracks. So, while waiting for word on whether he’ll be admitted to the police force, he hangs out on the mean streets of South Central with Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), his best friend since childhood. Mike isn’t exactly gainfully employed either, so the two cross over to the wrong side of the law and start dabbling in drug deals.

This development disgusts Mike’s girlfriend, Sylvia (Eva Longoria), who sees Jim as a bad influence. So, she kicks her man to the curb when he can’t commit to a serious relationship, leaving the two pals with not much to do besides cruising around the ‘hood looking for trouble. The problem with Harsh Times is that it takes the pair too long to find any, a big no-no in a picture being billed as a gritty, inner-city action adventure.

The movie marks the directorial debut of scriptwriter David Ayer, whose Training Day netted Denzel Washington an Academy Award and co-star Ethan Hawke a nomination in 2002. No such luck is likely this go-round, despite the fact that this automobile-intensive buddy drama is rather reminiscent of Ayer’s other hit flick. However, clocking in at a tedious two hours, Harsh Times merely manages to create an edgy, ominous atmosphere, but fails to provide much in the way of the bloodletting which marked Training Day, at least until the shocking denouement when the messy resolution comes off as a bit of an afterthought. In the process, the movie squanders some sound performances, particularly those by standouts Christian Bale and Eva Longoria, and even buff, character muscleman Terry Crews in a quickie cameo.
This might have benefited from Jim Davis’ pistol-whipping punks periodically while shouting Denzel’s character’s memorable catchphrase from Training Day, “King Kong ain’t got nothing on me!”

Good (2 stars)