Gritty urban action, sardonic humor, taut direction and some nicely shaded perfs put “Scarred City” a cut above most contempo cop dramas. Telling of a compromised officer who has to go it alone after he’s assigned to an out-of-control special operations unit, pic has edge and plenty of smarts, although lack of major hooks or big stars in a well-trod genre may mean it will be passed over for theatrical honors and find its fans in the vid bins.
John Trace (Stephen Baldwin) is a disgruntled beat cop when he gives chase to a crack dealer and shoots the man dead under the mistaken impression that he’s going for a gun. That doesn’t bother the plainclothes brother officers who show up to investigate, however. They supply the dead miscreant’s weapon, then strong-arm John into joining the Select Unit Armed Response (SCAR), a covert unit that specializes in tactical strikes on the city’s most incorrigible elements.
The thin line separating cops and criminals is a venerable theme, and writer-director Ken Sanzel gives it a believably sinister, up-to-the-minute spin in imagining SCAR as the cynical creation of politicians eager to show results in the war on crime. Naturally, the shrewd, mean lieutenant (Chazz Palminteri) in charge of the outfit is far from squeaky-clean himself, and he gets impatient when John shows reservations after SCAR sets up and then methodically guns down a criminal gang in a porn shop. Scruples have no place in this dark corner of law enforcement, of course, and the new recruit’s near-psycho cohorts remind him of that with a bloody beating.
John chooses to buck team spirit nonetheless, and he gets his chance when SCAR attacks a mansion housing Colombian drug dealers, determined to leave no one alive. Inside, he finds a cowering prostitute, Candy (Tia Carrere), and surreptitiously spirits her away from the bloodbath. It’s a good deed that turns dangerous almost immediately. When SCAR realizes what has happened, John has to grab Candy and flee, precipitating a mayhem-filled road chase that leads to a final showdown between two very different sorts of cop.
Sanzel proves adept at creating a dank, menacing atmosphere for this noir-like tale. He also has a way with sarcastic repartee and with his cast, especially Baldwin, whose appealing perf manages a nice balance between surliness and sympathy. Tech credits, including Michael Slovis’ able lensing, are thoroughly pro. *