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Blood Work is the latest mystery from actor/director Clint Eastwood. The screenplay, by Oscar-winner Brian Helgeland, is based on a novel by Michael Connelly. Somewhere in the process between Connelly’s imagination and what Eastwood committed to celluloid, mistakes were made.

The Trouble with Harry

McCaleb gets his Blood Work done by Dr. HustonThe first time we see Eastwood, he arrives at the scene of the crime looking like Dirty Harry. There is color in his hair; a cheap suit on his back, and his trademark grimace on his face. After chasing a suspect, his heart gives way and he collapses from the effort.

Two years later McCaleb is retired, looking more like the Eastwood we loved in Space Cowboys and Absolute Power. His hair is silver, his clothes are comfortable, and his grimace belies a dry charm. His new ticker is doing alright, although after only 60 days, it’s too soon to tell.

The Mystery Routine

McCaleb gets drawn into solving a crime for a new friend. Graciela (Wanda DeJesus) wants him to find a killer. She has already done some investigation of her own; she found out that her sister, who died in a convenience store robbery, was the probable donor for McCaleb’s new heart, which is why she came to McCaleb and not a licensed P.I. He’s too fragile to be sleuthing, but he’s compelled by Graciela’s story about her sister’s heart. His doctor (Angelica Huston, who proves that even small roles can be well acted) refuses to treat him if he takes on such a stressful investigation.

The movie proceeds with the pace and patter of a standard murder mystery. Track down a lead here. Call an old buddy at the police department there. Summarize your progress for the client just to make sure the audience is up to speed.

Since it’s a movie, there’s also the standard gesture toward romance, and a little stop in comedy-land. There is a darling child, two old buddies in two jurisdictions, a funny neighbor. This entertainment routine is fine, particularly if mysteries are your cup of tea. They’re not mine, but I can appreciate their rhythm. I don’t dislike mystery tea.

Nitpicking

There are many small problems with the movie. McCaleb suffers no consequences for any of his myriad crimes committed in his pursuit of “Justice.” Acting on a hunch — just a hunch — he takes a police shotgun from a sheriff’s trunk and shoots up a car in downtown Los Angeles. He turns on his dry charm for his friend in the sheriff’s department and he get away without so much as a wrist-slap.

And then there’s the problem with McCaleb’s other former cop buddy. Paul Rodriguez plays his part as a high-strung former sidekick, but the role sounds like it was written for someone older and more authoritative, like maybe Philip Baker Hall. The performance just doesn’t fit the words. And there are a dozen other nits to be picked too.

Say What?

Finally a connection is made between the convenience story robbery that killed Graciela’s sister and another crime committed weeks earlier at an ATM. The discovery of this connection made me sit up in my seat. Two crimes related in this way opened some interesting possibilities.

Blood Work kept my heightened interest for about ten minutes until I realized that none of my interesting theories were being pursued. The real theory — the one all you mystery readers knew to expect — was something so implausible I won’t bother to repeat it.

To add injury to insult, the perpetrator of these implausible crimes is revealed, and that person’s identity is so implausible that the movie tries to convince you it’s true by cramming in a speed-confession. The blabbing villain sounded like someone reading fine print on a radio ad. Then, to add salt to injury to insult, the movie drags on another ten minutes for a final showdown. By this time, I simply wanted to be done with Blood Work. They should have left well enough alone.

I’ll never know whether the book was at fault, or whether it was Helgeland’s script or Eastwood’s direction, because pursuing such an investigation would be bad for my heart. Unless you’re addicted to mystery tea, I recommend you skip Work.