Again the haggard hero, director/ producer/star Clint Eastwood rests uneasily on his laurels as the favorite tough guy of the Geritol generation. His "Blood Work" is a little bit "Tightrope," a little bit late-period Dirty Harry, and a whole lotta disappointment for audiences who expected anything more than a rote retread of story concepts that now usually hobble straight off to video when there isn't an Oscar winner somewhere on the set.
Eastwood's Terry McCaleb is a retired (and often tired) FBI agent, just 60 days past a heart transplant and living out his days aboard a boat docked on a California pier. (Why is it always a boat? Do no ex-lawmen yearn to tend sheep in the Scottish countryside?) Unable to drive a car or otherwise exert himself without breathing heavily, McCaleb nonetheless accepts the appeal of a grieving Hispanic woman (Wanda De Jesus) that he re-enter the crime-busting fray by solving the murder of her sister. The assignment, as they say, is personal: The murder victim just happened to be the donor who left McCaleb his life-saving new ticker. This isn't just high concept; it's high-blood-pressure concept.
The case becomes more complicated the deeper McCaleb delves into it, leading him back into the orbit of a shadowy serial killer who was a thorn in his side during his FBI days. Naturally, having McCaleb on the scene opens up avenues of inquiry unthought of by the bumbling cops and sheriffs (led by a sputtering Paul Rodriguez) upon whose investigative authority he intrudes. What baffles us is that even McCaleb takes so long to divine clues that may just as well be flashing on the screen in red neon letters. Adapting a novel by Michael Connelly, screenwriter Brian Helgeland ("L.A. Confidential," "A Knight's Tale") tries to pull off a narrative shell game, but he's all thumbs: Note how the supposedly fragile McCaleb's physical abilities improve when it's time for a chase or shoot-out.
Eastwood advances himself neither as an actor nor a director. A scene between McCaleb and his concerned doctor (Angelica Huston) is marked by uniformly perfunctory line readings, and during a later exchange with De Jesus, the star appears to come within a hair's breadth of blowing his dialogue. The participant who comes off best is Jeff Daniels, who finds some moments of fun in his role as McCaleb's layabout neighbor -- before the entire story goes crazy in the third act.
Then again, "crazy" may be too strong a term for "Blood Work," which mostly idles in the slow lane between clumsy and calculated. The hero is berated as a loose cannon. Cops are baited with doughnut jokes. Combatants engage in gunplay aboard ship. Eastwood pitches woo with a woman far too young for him. That's De Jesus, by the way; apparently, nothing takes the edge off familial loss like some mattress dancin' with an old white guy. It's another round of strenuous activity from which McCaleb emerges unaffected. His heart, see, will go on.