Directed by Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day," "Tears of the Sun") and written by Michael C. Martin, "Brooklyn's Finest" is an old-fashioned B-movie law-and-order melodrama. What sets it (slightly) apart is its structure, braiding together three unconnected plot strands.

Richard Gere plays a burned-out beat cop counting down the days until retirement. Don Cheadle is an undercover type whose loyalties become muddled when he must set up a drug runner (Wesley Snipes) who saved his life. Ethan Hawke is a financially strapped member of an anti-drug task force whose raids tempt him with piles of dirty money. Lili Taylor has a thankless, stereotypical role as Hawke's sickly, pregnant wife, and Shannon Kane is a hooker with a heart of gold who tends to Gere's psychic bruises.

These are flimsy constructs, not flesh-and-blood characters. Their escapades are less stories than anecdotes, routine cop-show malarkey that is not re-energized by the retelling here. Each foot soldier is struggling with a lost sense of vocation. In unlikely fashion their fates intersect at a squalid housing project where each, unknown to the others, prowls the corridors, his gun drawn, aiming to set his world right with an unauthorized use of force.

Compared with a real police-force melodrama like Martin Scorsese's "The Departed," this is a cold, unimpassioned construction. The adventures are sometimes interesting; there are stirring, chaotic outbursts of violence. But yelling and shooting alone don't engage the imagination, and the domestic interludes verge on soap opera. There's no notion of how these parallel story lines add up in a dramatic sense.

Fuqua's direction is technically polished but emotionally absent. I'd love to see what he could do with a high-octane crime novel by James Ellroy or Richard Price, but here he hasn't enough fuel. Instead of zooming like the Pelham express train, "Brooklyn's Finest" plugs along like a tugboat.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186