Picks and Pans Review: Colors

updated 04/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The minor brouhaha over whether this film is racist seems strange. For one thing, a movie about the appalling youth-gang problem in today's Los Angeles can hardly make the members seem to be Lithuanians or Greenlanders; that they are mostly black and Hispanic in the film seems reasonable. For another thing, it seems strange that anyone would get excited about a routine movie in which everybody—not just the gang members—is treated with equal shallowness. When faced with a chance to explore their characters, director Dennis Hopper and screenwriter Michael Schiffer almost always choose to show another fight or wild chase. This seems a lot like a mediocre episode of one of those old TV cop series—Police Story, say—which is surprising coming from Hopper, as well known for directing idiosyncratic movies—Easy Rider, The Last Movie, Out of the Blue—as for acting in them. Hopper did come late to this project, being called in at the suggestion of Sean Penn, who co-stars with Robert Duvall in a standard young-aggressive-cop-vs.-old-streetwise-cop plot. Even the skilled Penn and Duvall can't be convincing in a story that shows Penn as a raw newcomer all but taking over the police department and Duvall saying to gang members such things as, "So, are we going to have a rapport here or what?" Novelist Michael Schiffer wrote the screenplay, his first, having apparently absorbed little from his research with L.A.'s antigang police programs. West Side Story told the same tale better 30 years ago, and the songs weren't bad either. (R)

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