It’s just a matter of degrees that separates the good cops from the bad ones in “Phoenix.” And though the film attempts to give the genre material a hip, complex spin, the efforts are largely tiresome and uninspired. Technically, pic has a bigscreen sheen, but because it covers all too familiar territory, it would be bettered served as a pay cable premiere with some modest video afterlife.
The plot centers on four Phoenix detectives, particularly gambling addict Harry Collins (Ray Liotta) and the pliantly corruptible Mike Henshaw (Anthony LaPaglia). Harry’s in way over his head to loan sharks and eventually is driven to hit a crime czar’s club (where Mike works after hours) with his fellow officers to get the cash to pay his debt. But lurking in the background is a sanctimonious internal affairs officer (Xander Berkely).
Despite its many plot twists, Eddie Richey’s script is largely predictable. But he peppers the characters with odd quirks: One of the heavies lisps, a bad cop acts the class clown, and Harry, just to show he’s no fool, makes references to Dostoyevsky and King Kong. The effect is contrived rather than providing the sort of ironic edge that serves film noir so well.
Director Danny Cannon has a keen sense of ambience, directing the piece with a technical assurance that cannot overcome the flyweight material. Even the performances have the feel of actors recycling past work that had considerably greater texture. This “Phoenix” is mired in the ashes.