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By Rick Kisonak | October 27, 2008

Edward Norton and Colin Farrell play good cop-bad cop in the latest from “Miracle” director Gavin O’Connor. Guess which one is the hotheaded ringleader of a dirty, cold blooded, drug dealing crew of NYPD creeps? That’s right. If you like your moral quandaries tired and your plot developments telegraphed, you’ll love “Pride and Glory.” There isn’t a moment in it you won’t see coming a mile away. Well, maybe one. But more about that later.

This is the story of a family of cops. To keep things nice and familiar, O’Connor-who cowrote the screenplay with Joe Carnahan-has made them Irish cops. The patriarch is Manhattan Chief Detective Francis Tierney (Jon Voight), a sad-eyed old schooler who loves his boys and his Bushmills (an Irish cop with a fondness for whiskey-a sure sign a filmmaker’s going where no filmmaker has gone before).

Francis Jr. is played by “Little Children’s” Noah Emmerich. He’s the head of the precinct at which his brother (Norton) and brother-in-law (Farrell) are stationed, but his real job as far as the movie is concerned is to be conflicted. Four of his finest have been massacred in a drug deal gone wrong. On one hand, he supports Norton in his quest to unravel the crime. On the other, he worries about what will happen if he does since there’s reason to believe Farrell may be behind the bloodshed.

While the filmmakers strive for a gritty realism reminiscent of dirty cop classics like “Serpico,” shooting on the meanest streets they could scout in the gentrifying neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Washington Heights, there’s something fundamentally unconvincing and contrived about the story. Forget the fact that O’Connor hauls out every cliché in the bad cop handbook and the dialogue is more boilerplate than hard-boiled. The premise itself is just plain preposterous.

We’re supposed to go along with the proposition that a nasty cad with his own booze issues marries into a family filled with veteran law enforcement personnel, rises through the ranks himself and then, right under the noses of his in-laws, organizes a network of uniformed gangsters that engages in everything from drug dealing and extortion to murder. OK, if we were talking a family of plumbers or chiropractors, maybe. But it’s a bit of a stretch to believe Farrell’s character would expect his double life to go undetected in a family of detectives.

Equally dubious is the notion that, once Frank Jr. catches on, he says nothing. Perhaps if the dirty cop had been his actual brother, his silence might have proven borderline believable. This guy’s just his brother-in-law, though. The two aren’t portrayed as particularly close and good cops who work under Emmerich are being set up and butchered. You’d think this kind of thing might come up over one of the film’s crowded family dinners.

Hardest of all to square, however, is the presence of Edward Norton. Throughout the film I experienced a nagging suspicion there’d been some sort of paperwork snafu and a talent agency rep had accidentally switched his schedule with Mark Wahlberg’s or maybe Josh Hartnett’s. The material is so beneath the actor he comes off not so much as slumming as visiting from another planet. Norton attempts to breathe brooding life into a strictly stock character but the task proves beyond even his prodigious talents.

Farrell’s another matter altogether. However deliberately he’s avoided setting the bar terribly high over the course of his career, we know he’s gifted. We’re just pleasantly surprised when he goes to the trouble to demonstrate it now and then. The actor sticks to his standard bag of tricks here and, as a result, his mad dog badass in blue is seldom credible though occasionally diverting. He brings, for example, a momentarily fascinating mixture of tenderness and psychosis to the film’s sole original scene in which his character coaxes information out of a snitch by threatening to steam iron his newborn.

Good cops or bad cops, the cops we meet here are all for the most part fairly dull, derivative cops and the beat they pound will prove uncharted cinematic territory for few moviegoers. New Line had the picture scheduled for release two years ago and has been waiting ever since for the right time to slip it into theaters. What the world needs now is “Pride and Glory”? I have to say I haven’t uncovered any evidence to back that up. Crime scenes don’t grow a whole lot colder and police procedurals rarely are less arresting.

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