The streets in Black and Blue are covered in graffiti, full of characters with wide, expressive eyes. No matter who you are, the streets are literally watching when walking down these more rundown neighborhoods in a post-Katrina New Orleans. But more importantly, everyone on the streets seems on the hunt for rookie police officer Alicia West (Naomie Harris). Her third week on the job, she’s witnessed a group of crooked narcotics cops, led by Frank Grillo’s Malone, shoot a trio of drug dealers and now the narcs are hunting down West to silence the new cop and get rid of her body cam. When West tries to find help, she discovers the corruption of the police department is widespread, right down to her partner Jennings (Reid Scott). Even the derelict neighborhoods she used to call her own are against her, led by gang leader Darius (Mike Colter), who believes West has killed his nephew.
The whole world is out to get West, with the exception of Milo “Mouse” Jackson (Tyrese Gibson), who reluctantly helps this woman he used to know. Black and Blue presents all the elements for massive stakes, infused with a larger discussion of the divide between Black neighborhoods and the police who are supposed to serve and protect. But with a completely bland script by Peter A. Dowling, and generic, nonchalant direction by Deon Taylor, Black and Blue never goes beyond a string of bad cop movie cliches.
The primary problem with Black and Blue is a lack of any urgency to the proceedings. This is a race against time film, as West tries to navigate the streets of New Orleans while both drug dealers and cops are searching for her. Yet there’s no real pressure inherent in this story. Even when Taylor does get to a gunfight, or the cops hone in close to West, the stakes never escalate. Especially considering Black and Blue is supposed to be all about the tension between cops and the streets, it’s wild the film can’t even drum up any stress when focused on action.
Black and Blue’s subject matter also leaves plenty to be desired. Black and Blue keeps presenting West with the reality of her decision. As a black person, she’s a traitor to her old neighborhood, but the people on the force seem to see her as nothing more than a black person with a badge. The film opens with West jogging in a wealthy neighborhood, and is soon tailed by some cops who question her and treat her forcefully, until they realize she’s “blue.” But once the main plot of Black and Blue gets going, there’s very little that Dowling’s script is saying about race, the use of force by police, or the identity shakeup that must come for a black woman joining the force. As the film winds down, some of these issues arise again, but by this time, it just feels like Dowling trying to rush in these ideas he should’ve been dissecting this whole time.
At the very least, Harris is giving this role all she’s got. It’s great to see Harris in a lead role like this, but there’s not much for her to sink her teeth into. If there’s any tension in Black and Blue, it comes through in her performance, where she’s both frantic at her situation, and collected in knowing how she needs to proceed in order to take down the narc cops that have framed her. Colter also gets the opportunity to have fun with his showy role, an intimidating presence who just wants vengeance for his slain nephew. Scott, mostly known for his performance on Veep, is also a pleasant surprise, as Jennings is torn between his new partner and dedication to the department and Scott pulls off this balance quite well. If there’s a weak spot, however, it’s probably Gibson. Usually a dynamic actor, Gibson’s serious attitude as Jackson doesn’t play to Gibson’s strengths, and ends up feeling like little more than assistance for Moore.
Black and Blue certainly has a prescient idea and an exciting premise, but without the writing and directing to back it up, the entire film feels half baked. Even with Harris and Colter giving it all they’ve got, Black and Blue comes off more monochrome than it should.