McCanick: Film Review

Impressive casting can't overcome uneven scripting.

Cory Monteith and David Morse co-star in Josh C. Waller’s Philadelphia-set police procedural.

Cory Monteith in one of his last screen roles may be the best thing going for McCanick, a tired cop drama that recycles predictable narrative elements almost to the point of meaninglessness and then substitutes wildly improbable developments in place of actual originality. A brief theatrical lifespan may set the stage for more productive ancillary activity on smaller screens, if word of mouth doesn't prove too dissuasive.

David Morse stars as Eugene "Mack" McCanick, a weary, middle-aged Philadelphia police detective slogging toward retirement, who works the narcotics beat with his much younger partner Floyd (Mike Vogel). Floyd's planning to move on now that he's made the homicide task force, which only reinforces McCanick's hopeless professional inertia. Even his old buddy Jerry Quinn (Ciaran Hinds) has made captain, leaving Mack to wonder where his career might have gone with a bit more patience and a lot more sobriety.

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McCanick's birthday barely merits a mention on the job, as news arrives that Simon Weeks (Monteith), a former street hustler and high-profile homicide collar from seven years previous, has made parole. This unwelcome development sours Mack's dyspeptic perspective further, particularly when Quinn emphasizes that McCanick should steer clear of the ex-con. Instead, he concocts a lame cover story to convince Floyd that they have to bring Weeks in, leading to a shootout that ends with McCanick critically wounding his partner.

Floyd's hospitalization barely slows McCanick down, as he goes full-bore after Weeks. Occasional flashbacks attempt to fill in their shared history and elucidate the murder that lead to Weeks' incarceration, but poor pacing only results in these scenes muddling the already sketchy storyline further. Whether McCanick ever catches up with Weeks as events unfold over a single day seems almost incidental -- his behavior is so self-destructive he clearly won’t need any help wrecking his own life and career anyway.

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Trying to envision the plot conceived by screenwriter Daniel Noah is a bit of a mind-bending exercise. Intentionally obscuring the characters' backstories and then fragmenting the contemporary narrative with allusive flashbacks that only partially contribute to the narrative throughline results in a script that's rarely compelling and often distractingly vague. An awkward, late twist emphasizes the plot's overall implausibility with unsettling ineptitude.

It's nice to imagine that Morse – who's done plenty of fine work elsewhere – could have managed better with a more developed script. But when predictably corrupt McCanick spends most of his screen time either silently moping or inarticulately raging, there's not much of anywhere to take the character. Monteith's role remains pointlessly constrained as a small-time crook with a potentially devastating secret. But with no compulsion to reveal what he knows about McCanick's tainted past, the Weeks character is reduced to an almost functional level. Blame all the tough-guy emoting on the film's nearly complete lack of female characters, but the supporting cast rarely connects, with the possible exception of Hinds, whose talents are wasted in a stereotypical role.

Director Josh C. Waller, who's had more notable credits as a producer (including this year's Sundance features Cooties and A Girl Walks Home at Night), lets an apparent affinity for gritty settings and dim, moody lighting drain most of the drama from key scenes. A lack of satisfying range in both character and plot development bogs the film down in repetitive churning that might mange to come off as so much hot air if only it were more constructively focused. McCanick impresses as the type of project that may have looked good when everyone was picking up paychecks, but in retrospect turns out to be an almost total train wreck.

Opens: March 21 (Well Go USA)

Production company: Bleiberg Entertainment

Cast: David Morse, Cory Monteith, Mike Vogel, Rachel Nichols, Trevor Morgan, Aaron Yoo, Tracie Thoms, Ciaran Hinds

Director: Josh C. Waller

Screenwriter:Daniel Noah

Producers: Ehud Bleiberg, David Morse, Josh C. Waller

Executive producers: Nicholas Donnermeyer, Daniel Noah, Donald Kugelman, Ehud

Director of photography:Martin Ahlgr

Production designer: Michael Crenshaw

Costume designer: Gine Scarnati

Music: Johann Johannsson

Editor: Brett W. Bachman

Rated R, 96 minutes

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