21 BRIDGES movie poster | ©2019 STX

21 BRIDGES movie poster | ©2019 STX Entertainment

Rating: R
Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Taylor Kitsch, Louis Cancelmi, Alexander Siddig
Writers: Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan, story by Adam Mervis
Director: Brian Kirk
Distributor: STX Entertainment
Release Date: November 22, 2019

The title of 21 BRIDGES refers to the physical connections between the island of Manhattan and its neighboring boroughs and cities. These 21 bridges get closed down in the course of the movie, as the NYPD and the FBI attempt to prevent two cop killers from fleeing. The bridge closures are relatively incidental to the main plot. That’s not necessarily a problem – it’s not like some brilliant, untapped story about closed bridges is being missed here – but the disconnect between the title and the action is reflected elsewhere in the film.

A prologue introduces us to our hero, Andre Davis as a nine-year-old boy. Andre and his mother are both in silent tears at the funeral of his heroic police officer father, killed in the line of duty. The funeral oration talks of vengeance. Then we see Andre as an adult NYPD detective (now played by Chadwick Boseman) being confrontational in an Internal Affairs hearing. Andre has killed eight suspects in his ten years on the job. Is he overzealous in his use of force? He says he has never fired his gun when it’s not warranted.

This early dialogue may cause viewers to wonder if we’re about to get some variation on DEATH WISH with a badge. Far from it. Despite others’ perception of him, Andre really does follow not only his instincts, but his conscience. This turns leads him down an exceptionally twisty path during one night of havoc that runs from Brooklyn into the Big Apple.

Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch) are small-time bag men for a bigger drug dealer. When they go to steal thirty kilos of cocaine from a restaurant, they find three hundred kilos instead. Cops arrive on the scene while the partners are still inside, trying to move the drugs. Ray decides they should blast their way out. The tally is eight dead police officers. Ray and Michael try to figure out how they can flee the country.

Andre catches the case, which is just fine with NYPD Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons), who wants vengeance, and assumes that Andre is a shoot-first kind of guy.

21 BRIDGES movie poster | ©2019 STX Entertainment

21 BRIDGES movie poster | ©2019 STX Entertainment

A lot of 21 BRIDGES runs on parallel tracks, cutting back and forth between Michael and Ray on the run, and Andre and Narcotics Squad detective Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) on their trail.

The screenplay by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan, based on Mervis’s story, makes stabs at character development. James and Kitsch actually get more help from the writing in this department than do the actors playing police. James gives Michael’s moral anguish dimension, and Kitsch does well by Ray’s mixture of protectiveness towards Michael and belligerence towards the world. In contrast, apart from giving Andre his back story and ties to the Church, the protagonist gets most of his persona from the charismatic Boseman. The star of BLACK PANTHER didn’t need to play a cop at this point to prove his action bona fides, but since he’s here, Boseman certainly adds to 21 BRIDGES’ appeal. Simmons is excellent as always, Miller is fine as a working mom who mostly wants to get back to her kid, and Alexander Siddig makes an impression as a financial fixer.

Director Brian Kirk keeps things energetic, but the material defies levity at the same time it never achieves real gravity. The mystery of the significance of 300 kilos vs. 30 kilos aside, it’s not hard to figure out what’s happening here in the broad strokes. 21 BRIDGES is for people who love Boseman and/or New York, and like well-executed cop action even when it’s not especially original.

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