Review: '21 Bridges' needs a way out of its own cop clichés

Chadwick Boseman trades his 'Black Panther' costume for detective clothing in generic action outing

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Aside from his record-smashing superhero "Black Panther," Chadwick Boseman has played real life icons Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall on screen. 

In the messy action shoot-em-up "21 Bridges," Boseman essentially plays Denzel Washington, miming the speech patterns and the mannerisms that Washington has given in so many cop thrillers before him. The difference is Washington usually makes those films better. No such luck for Boseman here. 

Chadwick Boseman in "21 Bridges."

He plays Andre Davis, a New York City detective with an itchy trigger finger. He has a habit of taking down perps and is under investigation by internal affairs. His defense: "I never shot first." 

After a pair of low-level criminals (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch) come up on a major drug haul — they were supposed to steal 30 kilos of cocaine, they wind up with 300 — they blast their way out of the crime scene, leaving behind seven dead cops. 

Davis is put on the case and reasons the best way to catch the bad guys is by shutting down Manhattan for the night, cutting off all bridge access so they have nowhere to go. That gives him and his partner Frankie (Sienna Miller) four hours to comb through an island of 1.6 million people and find the criminals. No problem!

Rather than using the premise to create a sense of panic and claustrophobia on the most densely populated island in America, director Brian Kirk simply uses the lockdown as a narrative gimmick, never effectively conveying a sense that anything is out of the ordinary, aside from mentioning the situation in background news reports. (The fact that Philadelphia is standing in for New York doesn't help matters.) 

What unfolds is a by-the-numbers cop thriller that, like last month's "Black and Blue," too easily falls into corrupt cop clichés. Bullets fly, bodies stack up and Boseman does his best Denzel. But once those bridges open up, you're ready to get off the island. 

'21 Bridges'


Rated R: for violence and language throughout

Running time: 99 minutes