Most of us watch movies to escape the drudgery of our everyday lives.  We want our heroes to vanquish the villains and reap the rewards of their valor.  Hollywood often provides the dessert of a happy ending.  If it makes us feel sufficiently good, perhaps we’ll watch it again.  Depending on our maturity, we don’t want to experience too much reality.

Teenagers crave mindless horror movies because death poses little threat to them than it does to grown-ups. Nobody wants to see their heroes die tragically, despite the suspense that makes us sweat out the ending.  If you prefer films with sugarcoated endings rather than a meandering melodrama where anything appears possible, you should probably shun the Mel Gibson & Vince Vaughn crime thriller “Dragged Across Concrete” (**** OUT OF ****), a gritty saga about two cops who have crossed the line one time too many.

Writer & director S. Craig Zahler maintains the reputation he has forged for himself in his last two movies: “Bone Tomahawk” (2015) and “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (2017), relentlessly brutal outings where the heroes face odds hopelessly stacked against them.  Watching “Dragged Across Concrete” for Mel Gibson fans won’t remind them of the shenanigans of the “Lethal Weapon” franchise.

Suspenseful, lingering, but heavyweight in every aspect from fade-in to fade out, this austere R-rated crime yarn is neither as pitiless as “Bone Tomahawk” nor as pugnacious as “Brawl in Cell Block 99.” If you relish movies where the protagonists improvise against the unexpected to dispatch their adversaries, you might enjoy it more than the snowflakes who will be alienated by its nihilism.

Thirty years ago when the stars were younger and life offered the prospect of greater optimism, movies like “Dragged Across Concrete” could never have been financed.  Clocking in at an intractable 158-minutes, this elaborate heist caper boasts memorable characters, top-notch casting, but its soap bubble of optimism bursts before more than a quarter of an hour elapses.

“Dragged Across Concrete” opens with two seasoned plainclothes detectives on a stakeout.  Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson of “Braveheart”) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughn of “Clay Pigeons”) flush an African-American drug dealer out of a high-rise apartment complex after another cop impersonates a plumber to complain about a water leak.

The drug dealer flees via the fire escape, and Ridgeman and Lurasetti collar him.  Ridgeman questions him about the whereabouts of a duffel bag of heroin.  As he grinds his shoe into the nape of the dastard’s neck, Ridgeman learns about a partially deaf Latino woman shacked up in the apartment with the drug dealer.  Unbeknownst to the detectives, an apartment dweller some floors up has made a video of their excessive force.

Although the two cops have made a major bust, everything they’ve done comes back to haunt them.  Ridgeman’s former partner, Detective Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson of “Miami Vice”), suspends them without pay.  The two aren’t happy with the consequences.  Bridgeman’s better days have passed, and Lurasetti is accustomed to having the finer things.

Unlike Lieutenant Calvert, Ridgeman has failed to change with the times.  He does good, solid, police work, but displays little compassion.  His wife, a former cop, Melanie (Laurie Holden of “The Mist”) quit the force because of multiple sclerosis.  Moreover, the Ridgemans live in a low-life neighborhood, and their teenage daughter, Sara (Jordyn Ashley Olson of “The Shack”), endures bullies every time she comes home from school.  Ridgeman wants to move his family to a better side of town. Ridgeman’s younger partner Lurasetti plans to propose to his beautiful fiancée, Denise (Tattiawna Jones of “Tully”), but the departmental suspension threatens to cramp his style.

Ridgeman learns from a criminal informant, Friedrich (Udo Kier of “Blade”), about a felon in town who has been planning a big crime.  Initially reluctant to cross the line without his badge, Lurasetti goes along with Ridgeman, and they stake out this suspicious crook, Lorentz Vogelmann (Thomas Kretschmann of “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”), who plans to orchestrate a once-in-a-lifetime haul that will set him up for life.  Part of his plan requires the help of two trigger-happy accomplices.

Furthermore, Vogelmann hires two African-Americans as drivers, Biscuit (Michael Jai White of “Black Dynamite”) and his childhood chum, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles of “Get Rich or Die Tryin’”), who has just gotten out of  prison.  Johns discovers that not only has his mother lost her job, but she has also resorted to prostitution to pay her bills.  Unfortunately, she and his crippled brother are so deep in debt they face eviction.  Reluctantly, Johns joins Biscuit as a back-up driver for Vogelmann to help them out.

Patience is required to appreciate “Dragged Across Concrete.”  This heist film unfolds methodically, and we are as baffled as these two cops about Vogelmann’s designs. Characterization is really sturdy here.  Ridgeman calculates everything in percentages.  Can they thwart Vogelmann and survive?  Gibson looks terrific with his silver hair and thick mustache.  Life hasn’t treated Ridgeman well, but he has himself to blame, too.

Despite the disparity in their ages, the two stars radiate chemistry.  You can believe they’re partners because they know each other with a familiarity that has bred mutual respect. The villains are hopelessly homicidal.  Garbed from head to toe in impersonal black outfits, they wear goggles and wield magazine-fed, submachine guns equipped with silencers.  They issue lethal threats, and they show no mercy.

Vogelmann has planned his heist painstakingly, and Biscuit and Johns realize that they may be expendable.  Shrewdly, they stash cellophane-wrapped, automatic pistols out of sight in case they suspect Vogelmann of treachery.  Writer & director S. Craig Zahler isn’t cut from the same cloth as cult director Quentin Tarantino.

Zahler refuses to impress us with clever references to influential crime films, and his dialogue is straightforward like the realistic dialogue in Jack Webb’s vintage “Dragnet” television series.  Zahler’s characters are philosophical, but they are neither pretentious nor loquacious. Basically, “Dragged Across Concrete” qualifies as a hard-boiled melodrama that offers no easy way out for anybody. For more great movie reviews click the link: https://theplanetweekly.com/category/entertainment/

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