From the hoo-ah! delivery of its lines to a parade of scrupulously
groomed facial hair and tattoos, machismo comes oozing out of every
pore of Street Kings, a corrupt cop drama that expends so much energy
trying to convince audiences that it’s hardcore that it rather quickly
devolves into serial silliness.
Los Angeles Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is the stalest of clichés — a boozing, world-weary police officer with a dead wife. He’s also the more-than-willing tip of the spear for his boss, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), a social-climbing captain with an eye on higher office. When there are issues that need to be taken care of without the hassle of warrants and pesky paperwork, Ludlow is more than happy to shoot first, and let his captain vouch for him and answer questions later.
Things come to head, though, when Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) starts poking around. Then bad goes to worse when Ludlow’s whistle-blowing ex-partner (Terry Crews), with whom he had a very nasty falling out, gets brutally murdered with Ludlow on the scene. Shifted to a pencil-pushing desk job, Ludlow steels himself to settle the score, but finds the hunt for the chief suspects more complicated than usual. Forced to go up against the corrupt culture of which he’s been a part his entire his entire career, Ludlow is left not knowing whom to trust.
Noir heavyweight James Ellroy has a story and script credit on Street Kings‘ much-tinkered-on screenplay, but don’t let that — or the movie’s heavily peddled list of co-stars, which includes some requisite eye candy (7 Dias‘ Martha Higareda), a couple holding-deal 20th Century Fox favorites (Laurie, Chris Evans) and a pair of hip-hop musicians (Common, The Game) — fool one into thinking that this film has either the involving, ensemble, labyrinthine swirl of L.A. Confidential or the menacing punch of Training Day, the two movies with which it most desperately wants to be associated. (Other similar films include To Live and Die in L.A., Dark Blue and Dirty, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.)
In fact, Street Kings evinces no particular insight or thought other than the sum of its component commercial parts. It’s that attempt to create an easily marketable genre piece that quite obviously led Fox Searchlight and the film’s producers to the doorstep of Training Day‘s writer and Street Kings‘ helmer, David Ayer, who made his directorial debut with the similarly gritty Harsh Times, but can’t be judged one way or another here, so convoluted is the story.
There’s a certain credibility in some of the film’s detail, and its salty, politically incorrect dialogue. “You dress white, talk black and drive Jew, so how am I supposed to tell (your ethnicity)?” spits Ludlow early on, baiting some Korean bad guys into beating him up. But the conspiracies on display in Street Kings are so hollow, and its characters, particularly Wander, are required to so frequently verbalize their supposedly illicit intentions or deeds that any legitimate tension or sense of believability simply evaporates.
Appreciatively, a few new unintentionally hilarious “Keanuisms” (“This thing you want, you think you want, you don’t want!”) get minted along the way, but it’s long before the finale involving both a long-winded explication of the cover-up that’s just been unraveled and a character proudly displaying his secret, wall-hidden stash of cash, guns and other valuables that Street Kings has moved from passingly ridiculous to boring to flat-out ludicrous. For the full original review, from Reelz, click here. (Fox Searchlight, R, 108 minutes)