Training Day lets Denzel Washington finally play a creep, and the actor is clearly enjoying the experience, for he gives us one of his most energetic performances since Glory. Washington plays Los Angeles Police Detective Alonzo Harris, a corrupt, foul-mouthed cop showing his new partner Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, playing it squeaky clean as written) how to survive the mean streets of LA during the film's daylong timeframe. Heads get cracked, minds get messed with, and so on.
The story holds up pretty well for the first 90 minutes before devolving into another one of those inevitable showdowns between the two stars. In the meantime, though, Washington provides a great deal of suspense, as the audience cannot tell whether his character is truly nasty or if his wicked ways are just an act to help him uphold the law in such a violent environment. His performance is the main and perhaps only reason to check out the film.
Fuqua, known for slick, empty potboilers like The Replacement Killers and Bait, seems to have arrived at a more mature point in his career, even though he still applies a music video gloss to his work: Training Day certainly looks great. But let's blame writer David Ayer for the film's derivative, predictable ending, as well as a crucial plot twist in the third act that relies on a laughably unbelievable coincidence. Also, considering that Hawke is often the only white person in neighborhoods filled with pistol-packing blacks and Latinos, the story is somewhat aloof about race relations in testy LA, suggesting that most minorities will side with The Man and against one of their own if righteousness was the only test. I don't think that's a very honest sentiment. Stranger still when you consider director Fuqua is a black Angeleno who has undoubtedly witnessed otherwise.