||No Escape from
Blam! Blam! Blam-blam! The hot silence on a South Central Los
street is split open by shotgun blasts echoing from a string of
collapsing houses. Two shady-looking young men flee from the scene,
leaping from rooftop to rooftop. When they jump to the ground, a
plainclothes LAPD detective sprints after them as they hop into a T-bird
and screech away. Just down the block stand four middle-aged officers in
uniform, idly watching their escape. Why aren't they doing anything?
Maybe because, as on-location set guards, they're only here to protect
the equipment and mooch coffee from the catering truck--not to provide
Kurt Russell with backup. But observers might have asked the same thing
on April 29, 1992, when cops stood by as Los Angeles erupted in flames,
following the acquittal of the four white police officers charged with
the savage beating of Rodney King.
Plague Season, a disquieting police drama set in the five days leading
up to the riots, deals with the bigotry, blackmailing, and brutality
within the police department that lit the fuse for the citywide
explosion that took 55 lives. "If you're a native of Los Angeles,"
director Ron Shelton ("Play It to the Bone") says, you know there's
smog, there's traffic, and there's corruption in the LAPD. That's the
Written by David Ayer ("Training Day") and based on a story by LA
Confidential novelist James Ellroy, the film's morally murky terrain was
a hard sell for the stuidios. "Everybody thought it was a
little...tough," Shelton says. The film follows the corrupt Detective
Eldon Perry, Jr. (Russell) and his rookie partner Bobby Tedrow (Scott
Speedman of TV's "Felicity") as they track down suspects in a multiple
murder, using Perry's less-than-rigorous approach. "There's a crime, and
there are criminals, and if you're meticulous, maybe you make a match,"
Russell says, summing up his character's attitude. "We're in the
getting-shit-done business." Meanwhile another officer (Ving Rhames) is
making a political move to become the first black LAPD chief, and his
by-the-book right-hand woman ("ER's" Michael Michele) is having a
passionate affair with Tedrow.
Although clashes between law enforcers and civilians "unfold on the
streets every day," Michele says, "most of the time we don't hear about
it." Of course, the Rodney King tragedy was the obvious exception.
Shelton remembers being in his Sunset Boulevard office as flames licked
through Hollywood, and Ayer was at the home of a friend, screenwriter
Wesley Strick ("The Glass House"), in the Hollywood Hills. "It was kind
of a surreal moment because [Strick's] neighbor is Penny Marshall," Ayer
says. "So, I'm standing there on the balcony watching the city burn with
Laverne." He glances over at the prop man readying Russell's shotgun for
another take. "It's a strange town."