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Proffering itself as an urgent dispatch from the drug wars, shot combat-photography style, Narc opens behind enemy lines. Undercover cop Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) pursues a desperate dealer through a Detroit housing project, and the chase suddenly becomes a hostage situation. Tellis gets his man, but in the process, he wounds a pregnant bystander, who loses her unborn baby. Eighteen months after this quick-and-dirty prologue, Tellis is a new father, worried about being unemployed but not especially interested in returning to the police force that suspended him. He wants a desk job, and he’s promised one if he helps solve the murder of another cop, Michael Calvess (Alan Van Sprang, glimpsed only in flashbacks). With the assignment comes Calvess’ former partner, beefy and blustery loner Henry Oak (co-producer Ray Liotta, who bulked up for the role). Oak maintains that Calvess was untainted, but there’s another possibility: that he started playing his druggie role in earnest and lost control—exactly what happened to Patric’s character in 1991’s Rush. Reworking his 1994 short Gun Point, writer-director Joe Carnahan goes for a speedy mix of flash and grime, using split screens, grainy low-light cinematography, and stark encounters with lowlifes both alive and in advanced stages of putrefaction. After about 45 minutes in the urban jungle, Narc begins to open a few paths—all of which head in familiar directions. Calvess’ death appears to be connected to the case that almost ended Tellis’ career, and it seems likely that Oak isn’t telling his new partner everything he knows. When Tellis and Oak catch two gunrunners (Busta Rhymes and Richard Chevolleau), the suspects have yet another version of what happened to Calvess. By then, all that’s left of the movie’s credibility is its dingy look and doomy score (by Cliff Martinez, supplemented by the Geto Boys and the Baby Namboos). Narc strives for authenticity, but anyone with a cop-show understanding of forensics will recognize its final twist as bogus. —Mark Jenkins