Keanu Reeves takes on corrupt cops, while hedging on being one himself, in Street Kings, a gritty and surprisingly decent action-thriller now out on DVD. Reeves plays a cop who, under investigation by Internal Affairs for questionable crime-solving techniques, finds himself between a rock and a hard place after one of his colleagues is brutally murdered.
Everything unfolds when Detective Tom Ludlow (Reeves) shows up at a convenience store to confront a fellow cop (Terry Crews) who has been working with IA to bring him down. At the same time, a couple of hoodlums show up and riddle the guy with bullets; even though Ludlow is innocent, the coincidence of him being in the same place at the same time is not a risk his superior (Forest Whitaker) is willing to take. His presence at the crime scene is quietly swept under the rug, but even with IA (Hugh Laurie) breathing down his neck, Ludlow isn't ready to let the bad guys off so easily. He could walk away and save his own neck, or keep digging and uncover secrets that some people would rather leave undiscovered.
There's nothing particularly original about Street Kings, as it is a typical corrupt cop thriller spruced up for the 21st century. At the same time, there's something refreshing about it as well. Since this film was relatively panned by critics, I have a feeling I'll be defending myself a bit on this one, but I really liked Street Kings. There is something satisfying about seeing Reeves play a down-and-dirty cops who pops out racial slurs to pick fights, isn't afraid to go in guns blazing and will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of things, no matter how many people he has to kill. While people get on Reeves' case about being a hollow actor, having just watched Point Break the night before, I can certainly say that he's come along way. He might not be a great actor, but he is an excellent fit in Street Kings.
It's surprising that the movie didn't get a bigger marketing push, given its violent nature and its all-star cast. A few years ago, at the height of Reeves' popularity, this movie could have made a lot of money. Whitaker and Laurie both turn in fine, albeit small, supporting performances, and even Chris Evans, who continues to surprise in grittier and grittier roles, is excellent.
Beyond the cast, though, I just liked this brutal look at LA cops. Director David Ayer (writer of Dark Blue, S.W.A.T. and Training Day) clearly has an interest for cop stories, and the grittiness rivals that of Training Day. Then again, Street Kings is no Training Day, but it still works in its own way. Recommended to those who don't like PG-13 thrillers.
Review by Robert Bell (C+)
When watching corrupt cop movies, or more specifically Street Kings, various questions come to mind, like: Is there a specific casting agency that specializes in gangsta hookers? Do police chiefs in three thousand dollar suits really say things like "trippin?" Are all troubled cops alcoholics? Is there anything edgy about airplane-serving sized Smirnoff? When did the F-word become so versatile? It's really quite a shame that questions like these, and a bevy of others, find themselves at the forefront of an interesting analysis of systemic corruption and varying degrees of morality.
Street Kings is an edgy and cleverly crafted exploration of corruption, redemption and varying shades of grey with hints of Ouroboros. The plot twists, gunplay and appropriately washed out palette should keep the key adult male demo engaged throughout. It's just unfortunate that the film has absolutely no sense of humor and takes itself so seriously. This is a dick-in-hand man's movie to an unintentionally amusing degree.
Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran LAPD officer with a solid, yet controversial, track record. Increased ambiguity in his role as law enforcer has led him to alcoholism and a moral crossroads. Luckily his Captain, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) and other squad members (John Corbett, Jay Mohr, and Amaury Nolasco) always have his back, even when he shoots unarmed men.
Meanwhile Ludlow's ex-partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), is creating problems for Tom and his crew by exposing some of their secrets. After a series of unfortunate events, Tom finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy that may be just a little too easy to walk away from.
The overall didactics of the film are the strong point. Yes, Street Kings is essentially another corrupt cop movie, but it has something interesting to say. It explores how one might adapt to a system that is inherently damaged without conscious choice. When the status quo is morally defunct, how does one find morality within that? And if they do find it, where does that leave them? The film suggests that everyone is bad in their own way. It also explores how attempts to escape a problematic system are ultimately redundant, as the cyclic nature of human behaviour makes it a moot point.
The script by James Ellroy (LA Confidential) and Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet) is a mixed bag. While the actual story is well crafted, the dialogue is often amusing and characters are somewhat clichéd. Street Kings is so desperate to be edgy that everyone winds up with a tough talking street vernacular. While this is believable to a certain degree, the film overdoes it, as much of the street cop exposition feels forced and hackneyed. Aside from Chris Evans' and Hugh Laurie's characters, there isn't a great deal to distinguish the other police officers, detectives, or captains, as they all seem to foster similar belief systems and share the same vocabulary.
Acting throughout is generally favorable, most surprisingly by Reeves. He plays the stock alcoholic police officer in moral crisis quite well, mainly due to his trademark stoicism, which has been to his detriment in past films. Here it works well while integrated with his rage. He manages to command many scenes that require him to be an intimidating force, which is no easy task. Forest Whitaker on the other hand, turns in a bizarre and unconvincing performance. It's unclear what he was going for, but he struggles in delivering slang and overacts at inconvenient moments.
Street Kings will likely find an audience and a following. The lack of female characters in the film that aren't prostitutes suggests that this following will be male. There are some issues left to think about after the credits roll, but there are also many things to laugh about. It's hard to take a film seriously that is so convinced of its own importance.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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