Thursday, September 28, 2023

Muzzle: K-9 Officers Fighting Fentanyl

Chinese exports have fallen drastically recently, except their illicit fentanyl trade. One brave LAPD officer will be killed trying to fight a gang of Mainland-connected fentanyl traffickers. He happened to have four legs, but as a K-9 officer, he is due the same honors as his two-legged colleagues. Naturally, his partner-handler is keen to avenge him in John Stalberg Jr.’s Muzzle, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Of course, Officer Jake Rosser has PTSD, because every veteran character must have PTSD. Hollywood simply refuses to consider any other aspect of the military service experience. Fortunately, partnering with Ace has been therapeutic for Rosser. Consequently, when Ace is murdered in the line of duty, Rosser starts spiraling downward again.

According to the autopsy, Ace was really killed by fentanyl poisoning, not the injuries he sustained from the fugitive drug dealer. Even though Rosser is suspended pending a clean psych evaluation, he starts following the leads back to a new fentanyl gang, with convenient connections to a Chinese pharmaceutical company. He also starts training a new partner.

Rosser can relate to Socks. She was badly mistreated by her last handler, whose identity is shrouded by an Internal Affairs investigation. Socks will be more of a project than Leland, the department’s senior trainer, recommends for Rosser, but they quickly form a bond. Rosser also deduces Socks’ murky past involves the same fentanyl gang that killed Ace.

Muzzle is considerably darker than Turner & Hooch, since there is an Old Yeller moment within the first ten minutes. Yet, we get to know Ace sufficiently well for his funeral, with full departmental honors, to be darned emotionally crushing. Screenwriter Carlyle Eubank never cops out or opts for easy sentimentalism. This is a tough, gritty police story that features K-9 cops on nearly equal footing with their human counterparts. It also has the honesty and guts to call out China for its role in the fentanyl trade.

Ace and Socks are terrific, but Aaron Eckhart is also very good working with them. He broods hard, but also bonds with both his canine partners. His scenes with Grainger Hines as psychologist Aldo Damon are also written and played with surprising sensitivity, avoiding the typical cop movie cliches. Likewise, as Leland, Stephen Lang shows great empathy for both men and dogs in uniform.

There is some decent procedural stuff in
Muzzle, but it is driven by the bond between human-canine partners. Plus, it is pretty zeitgeisty for its exposure of the fentanyl trade. Recommended for fans of cops films (it might be too intense for viewers of Bruce Cameron dog movies), Muzzle opens tomorrow (9/29) in New York, at the IFC Center.