If the drably derivative, infuriatingly improbable police drama “McCanick” is remembered for anything, it will be for its uniformly overqualified cast, which includes Ciaran Hinds and a lead turn from David Morse. If it attracts an audience, it will be due to the key supporting part capably played by the late Cory Monteith, in one of his final roles before his sudden death at age 31. And if the role adds anything to Monteith’s legacy, it will be a sad grace note indicating that the star was both able and willing to expand his acting parameters, even if one must wade through this piffle to witness it. Curiosity will likely drive minor theatrical release, with better luck on VOD.
Though Monteith’s character is the prime mover of the story, he has little more screentime here than he would on an average “Glee” episode, with the spotlight trained firmly on Morse’s titular Philadelphia detective, Eugene “Mack” McCanick. So salty that he seems on the verge of pickling, McCanick is the gruff, shoot-first precinct veteran paired with a young pretty-boy go-getter (Mike Vogel), and as he arrives to work on his birthday, he’s enraged to get word that Simon Weeks (Monteith), a teenage criminal he put away seven years ago, has been released early from prison. McCanick’s commander (Hinds) warns him not to pursue the man, hinting at an uncomfortable bit of history that all characters involved go out of their way to avoid discussing directly.
Mistaking willfully withheld essential information for mystery, the story unfolds within a single day: McCanick pursues Weeks’ whereabouts as frequent flashbacks fill in the gaps of how the detective first met Weeks, then an underage street hustler, while investigating a politician’s murder. McCanick wastes little time in proving himself not only a dirty cop but also an inept one, creating mess after bloody mess as he attempts to discreetly stage a manhunt for Weeks under his partner’s nose.
In the early going, director Josh C. Waller (working from Daniel Noah’s script) at least manages to cook up a decent degree of ambiance, with lived-in Philly locations that feel real without being ostentatiously gritty. Yet it doesn’t take long for its relentless unoriginality to become an issue — it’s worth a chuckle when a fellow cop asks McCanick, “who do you think you are, Popeye fucking Doyle?” though the joke stops being funny by the time McCanick shoots a suspect in the back, angrily pounds on closing subway doors, and commandeers a civilian vehicle to chase a train. Even less amusing is the film’s aggressively senseless denouement, which is so tonally, logically and narratively inconsistent with the rest of the film it initially reads as a joke.
Spending most of his scenes playing a character a decade his junior, Monteith delivers a very solid, professional performance that’s far enough against type that it may attract some overblown praise, though there’s only so much he can do with such a basic, straightforward part. Morse and Hinds could probably play these roles while asleep, and the fact that they don’t gives the film a welcome boost in character.