New York writer-director Dito Montiel gave Channing Tatum an early break in his own punchy debut, 2006’s A Guide To Recognising Your Saints. He later offered the actor a helpful career step-up with his first starring role not requiring urban dance moves, in Fighting.
Now he’s almost A-list, Tatum probably feels he can spare Montiel a dud. That’s what he gets with this gritty cop drama, which casts Tatum as a 30-year-old rookie in 2002 New York, working the Queens neighbourhood where he grew up in one of its nastiest projects.
Flashbacks reveal that Tatum’s moody, taciturn Jonathan ‘Milk’ White has a guilty childhood secret: he killed two of the estate’s scuzziest scuzzballs, murders left unsolved until an anonymous letter writer threatens to blow the case open.
Montiel is no slouch at fomenting a seamy urban atmosphere, as demonstrated by his previous films. Sadly, his earlier knack for delivering compelling characters is AWOL here.
Women are a big problem: Katie Holmes gets the thankless role of Tatum’s badgering wife, Kerry, while Juliette Binoche’s drab scenes as local reporter Loren Bridges must leave the French actress wondering why she made the trip.
Montiel’s men aren’t much better, although Ray Liotta’s shouty precinct captain and Al Pacino’s detective keep it watchable. Tatum, too, has a certain comatose charisma and even 30 Rock’s Tracy Morgan brings a tragic sting as Milk’s damaged childhood friend.
But nothing can save the film from its ludicrous mystery. After a baffling rooftop climax, there’s only one conclusion to draw: Tatum’s dues to Montiel are fully paid.