The medium isn't much of a message in "End of Watch," a cop drama presented as "found footage" taken by people on both sides of the law. It's an attempt to update a creaky script in a trendy style, and it might have worked if writer-
director David Ayer had stayed true to his conceit. But by stationing cameras all over South Central Los Angeles for better angles on the action, he keeps wrecking the sense of realism he's trying to build.
Our main window into the LAPD is Officer Brian Taylor, a former Marine played by a sullen Jake Gyllenhaal; his partner, Mike Zavala, is the kind of noble minority that white cops have been paired with since "Dirty Harry," though Michael Peña ("World Trade Center") gives him warmth, if not depth. Taylor video-logs their patrols, a hit parade of perp walloping, drug confiscating and child rescuing. These guys are such crime-busting dynamos that they actually end up on a hit list.
In an age of tiny lenses and cheap circuitry, it's almost believable that nearly every gangster, drug dealer and assassin north of Juarez would carry a camera and press record while committing crimes. This at least explains why we're privy to so many plot-driving conversations. But did someone walk into Jake's bedroom and film him getting hot and heavy with his new girl, Janet (Anna Kendrick)? Who the heck found that footage?
Ayer ("Street Kings," "Training Day") piles up the bodies and pours on the blood, but "End of Watch" comes closest to crackling when its characters are simply talking. Cody Horn and America Ferrera add a bit of grit as stonyhearted cops; Peña brings Gyllenhaal to life whenever they're shooting the salty breeze in their cruiser. More of those moments, and less wobbly camerawork, would have been more convincing.
PLOT After a series of arrests, two LAPD officers are marked for death by a drug cartel. RATING R
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A rickety crime flick dressed in a trendy "found footage" style. Unconvincing, despite a solid cast.