As a study of fearless journalism, George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" won't have to worry about competition from "Edison," about intrepid reporters seeking to expose police corruption. Pic bears all the hallmarks of a Cannon Films action quickie from the mid-1980s. "Edison" should be coming soon to a cable channel and a video store near you.

As a study of fearless journalism, George Clooney’s “Good Night, and Good Luck.” won’t have to worry about competition from “Edison,” about intrepid reporters seeking to expose police corruption. Despite Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey in the cast and the modest novelty of pop star Justin Timberlake in his bigscreen acting debut, pic bears all the hallmarks of a Cannon Films action quickie from the mid-1980s. Its high-profile (and inexplicable) slot as Toronto’s closing night gala notwithstanding, “Edison” should be coming soon to a cable channel and a video store near you.

In the fictional metropolis of pic’s title — actually, a barely-disguised Vancouver — an elite team of super-cops called First Response Assault & Tactical (or F.R.A.T.) have cleaned up the city’s once mean streets and, as a result, enjoy a privileged status that places them virtually above the law.

Their status is shown during an opening bank robbery sequence lifted part and parcel from Michael Mann’s “Heat,” when veteran F.R.A.T. sergeant Lazerov (Dylan McDermott) doesn’t think twice about gunning down a suspect by shooting through the shoulder of an innocent female bystander — and he doesn’t receive so much as a slap on the wrist for his actions. It’s a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in a Zucker brothers parody of a Sidney Lumet pic, but which is supposed to be taken seriously in “Edison.”

Then, during what appears to be a routine bust of a couple of small-time drug dealers, Lazerov and his wet-behind-the-ears partner, Deed (LL Cool J), confiscate all the cash and coke in sight and shoot one of the dealers dead, before using some friendly persuasion to convince the other to confess to a “self-defense” killing.

At the subsequent trial, all goes according to plan, until Pollack (Justin Timberlake), a cub reporter from a Jewish community newspaper, catches a brief exchange between Deed and the defendant that convinces him there’s more to this story than meets the eye. But when Pollack writes a piece that’s all conjecture and speculation, his grizzled editor (Morgan Freeman) fires him.

In de rigeur whistle-blower-movie fashion, no sooner does Pollack start asking a few too many questions than then he and his girlfriend, Willow (Piper Perabo), are brutally attacked.

The feature writing and directing debut of longtime small-screen scribe David Burke (“Crime Story,” “Wiseguy”), “Edison” clearly wants to be one of those sprawling, multi-layered corruption dramas, a la “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential,” in which a relatively minor incident ends up cracking open a whole tangle of dirty dealings and the powerful men ensnared in them.

It also seems to think it has something important to say about the ethical responsibilities of journalists, with lots of talk about “moral imperatives” and the like.

But the movie is a parade of cliches, from Freeman as the sage-like Pulitzer-winner (unsubtly named Moses) to McDermott as the de facto racist white cop (he frequently refers to Timberlake as “that Yid”) to Spacey (complete with 1980s pompadour hairdo) as the lone city official with clean hands.

And the plotting lacks credibility — Lazerov and Deed are so bad at covering their tracks that a reporter from Seventeen magazine (which is more or less how Timberlake comes across) could pin them to the mat.

Throughout “Edison,” there are fleeting moments during which Burke seems to be trying for a satirical commentary about the continued mutual back-scratching of big business and big government in the post-Enron era. Yet he seems to have little new to say on the subject. Alas, most of the laughs in the film come courtesy not of Burke’s irreverent wit, but rather his knack for overwritten dialogue that sounds like it was conceived with a thesaurus close at hand. (“You’re great sex, but imperious and penniless are serious social hang-ups,” Perabo tells Timberlake.)

Burke isn’t particularly more adept as a visual stylist, with an over-reliance on meandering steadicam shots and flatly lit widescreen compositions (courtesy of d.p. Francis Kenny) that make the film look considerably cheaper than its reported $37 million budget.

Edison

Production

A Millennium Films presentation of a Randall Emmett/George Furla production of a VIP Medienfonds 3/Nu Image co-production in association with Rising Star. Produced by Randall Emmett, George Furla, Boaz Davidson, John Thompson. Executive producers, Andreas Schmid, Andreas Grosch, Avi Lerner, Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short. Directed, written by David Burke.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Francis Kenny; editor, Casey O. Rohrs; additional editing, Tirsa Hackshaw; music, Machine Head; music supervisor, Ashley Miller; productions designer, Katterina Keith; art director, Don Halton; costume designer, Katrina McCarthy; sound (Dolby Digital), David Husby; visual effects, Worldwide FX; assistant director, Peter D. Marshall; second unit director, Boaz Davidson; casting, Sheila Jaffe. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Closing Night Gala), Sept.16, 2005. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Ashford - Morgan Freeman Wallace - Kevin Spacey Pollack - Justin Timberlake Deed - LL Cool J Lazerov - Dylan McDermott Tilman - John Heard Reigert - Cary Elwes Maria - Roselyn Sanchez Isiaha - Damien Dante Wayans Rook - Garfield Wilson Reyes - Marco Sanchez Wu - Darryl Quon Ives - Andrew Jackson Butler - Tim Paul Perez Willow - Piper Perabo
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