Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is the undercover cop giving chase in the opening scene. The pursuit ends tragically, and, after 18 months of probation, he requests a desk job. The death of a fellow officer sucks him back into active duty, however, when his superiors call on his particular expertise. Teamed with the deceased's partner, Lt. Harry Oak (Ray Liotta), he descends once again into the Detroit underworld to root out the killer.
As written by Carnahan, the investigation is a complicated one, with shady leads terminating in dead ends. Carnahan helps the narrative along by representing the numerous interviews in split screens, a hip allusion to films of the '70s. Some discoveries are just too thrilling to skim over, however, such as the gangbanger too lazy to get out of the tub when his bong breaks, lighting up the barrel of his shotgun instead. One can imagine the result of this idiocy. The scene does little to advance "Narc's" plot, but it serves as an inspired application of gore as humor.
It becomes clear as the movie progresses that Oak knows more than he's telling, and the audience has it figured out long before a prolonged scene in which Tellis beats the truth out of two hoodlums, uncovering a scandal that threatens his own safety as an undercover cop. But--and this is a testament to the ingenuity of Carnahan's script--the twist ending that one thinks is coming takes an entirely different track, further illuminating Carnahan's finely crafted characters. Starring Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Busta Rhymes, Chi McBride, Richard Chevolleau and Krista Bridges. Directed and written by Joe Carnahan. Produced by Ray Liotta and Michelle Grace. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for strong brutal violence, drug content and pervasive language. Running time: 105 min