In the New Orleans-set chase-thriller, “Black and Blue,” Alicia West gets caught between communities.
A principled rookie police officer, Alicia truly wants to serve and protect her hometown following three tours of duty with the US Army in Afghanistan. The community she grew up in, however, distrusts anyone who wears a police uniform, no matter what color their skin is. When Alicia’s patrol car rolls through her old neighborhood, even old friends treat her with hostility.
In her first leading role, Naomie Harris plays Alicia. The British actress received an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2016’s “Moonlight" and proved her action-movie credibility with Daniel Craig in two James Bond films and the classic zombie flick, “28 Days Later.” But she’s at the center of the action in “Black and Blue.”
Deon Taylor, an indie filmmaker directing his first major studio film, helms “Black and Blue” in breakneck style. Often associated with horror (including this year’s “The Intruder”), Taylor brings those sensibilities to what essentially is an urban horror story. His marathon fight sequences in “Black and Blue,” however, can go long, diminishing their impact. And suspenseful though the film is, the tension sometimes flags.
“Black and Blue” opens shortly after Alicia’s mother’s death. While she’s jogging in a white neighborhood following a visit to Lafayette Cemetery No, 2, two white police officers stop her, shove her against a fence and frisk her. Once they establish Alicia’s identity, the officers offer a half-hearted apology: She fit the description of a suspect.
“Yeah, I know how it is,” the angry Alicia responds.
But there’s much more she doesn’t know. In a defining scene, Alicia’s temporary patrol partner, Officer Deacon Brown (James Moses Black), demands that she adhere to a dark brand of loyalty.
“You think you’re black?” he asks Alicia. “You think they’re your people? Well, they’re not. … You’re blue now.”
Later, Brown orders Alicia to stay in their police cruiser while he enters the ruins of the former Market Street Power Plant on the Mississippi River. Minutes later, the gunfire she hears from inside compels her to investigate. Proceeding cautiously inside, she sees narcotics officer Terry Malone (Frank Grillo) kill a young black man.
Alicia, suddenly in harm’s way because she witnessed the murder, escapes from Malone and his fellow rogue cops. A hunted woman in blue, she’s determined to bring the evidence captured by her bodycam to her police station.
Malone, played in gritty style by Grillo (“The Grey,” “Captain America: Civil War”) casts a wide and deadly net for his prey. Lying to Darius (Mike Colter), leader of the Kingston Crew gang, Malone cons the gang into the hunt for Alicia, who’s thrown into one extreme challenge after another.
Tyrese Gibson, the star of the “Fast & Furious” and “Transformers” films, becomes Alicia’s only ally. His role as artist Milo “Mouse” Jackson is far removed from the action-ready characters he plays in franchise blockbusters. Because the director and script cast Harris as a self-reliant warrior, Mouse mostly let’s her handle the street-level combat.
Regardless of some flaws, the hard-fought payoff Alicia’s courage and Harris’ groundbreaking casting achieve may well have audiences cheering.
‘Black and Blue’
NOW PLAYING: At AMC Mall of Louisiana 15, Cinemark Perkins Rowe and XD, Movie Tavern Citiplace and Movie Tavern Juban Crossing (Denham Springs)
MPAA RATING: Rated R for violence and language.
EXCELLENT (****), GOOD (***), FAIR (**), POOR (*)