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Overall Rating

Awesome: 7.69%
Worth A Look46.15%
Average: 10.26%
Pretty Bad: 17.95%
Total Crap: 17.95%

5 reviews, 9 user ratings

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Street Kings
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by Erik Childress

"Can't Our Cops Just Be Kinda-Corrupt?"
4 stars

I have to admit a soft spot for corrupt cops. Relax, you know the kind I mean. The ones that bend the rules on behalf of our rights and keeping us safe. And if they happen to take a little bad guy cash on the side, hey, more power to them. From Dirty Harry to Vic Mackey, our fascination with the rule-bent cop have always given us a counterbalance to our scorn for all the traffic tickets and negative media stories involving race and picking on skateboarders. For reportedly being a supporter of the Los Angeles Police, novelist James Ellroy has certainly written his share about the shadier sides of the Department and he’s back to his old tricks with Street Kings. Despite only sharing credit as a co-writer, the story has his fingerprints all over it and those familiar smudges become a detriment to an otherwise well-made film by director David Ayer.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) isn’t just the stereotypical cop who sleeps with his gun under his pillow. He takes it into the bathroom while brushing his teeth and carries it holstered in his hand upon leaving for work. After setting up a couple of baddies involved in kidnapping and illicit videotaping, Tom becomes a one-man hit squad and mows down four of them before his team (John Corbett, Amaury Nolasco & Jay Mohr) can even show up. Thrilled with Tom’s work is his commander (Forest Whitaker), a mentor who “found” him and has molded him into the officer he is today. Less thrilled is Tom’s former partner, Washington (Terry Crews) who likes to throw out phrases such as “right-to-trial” and “racist” in Tom’s face. Also up in Tom’s grill is Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) from internal affairs who is investigating the whole crew and might have some specific information directly from his old partner.

Despite being told to let it go, Tom can’t help but want a piece of his former brother-in-blue and he follows him right into a brutal stick-up where two masked gunmen mow him down and leave Tom alive. Whitaker's Commander orchestrates a quick cover-up of the crime scene, concocting a flimsy story and removing the video footage. We know though that one of Tom’s rounds accidentally struck Washington and that doesn’t bode well for their lie. Tom, shifted to a desk job fielding citizen complaints, still can’t let it go though and touches base with “2-for-2” Detective Diskant (Chris Evans) to solve the murder.

Because we’re watching a movie and keenly aware of it, the trail of Tom’s investigation is destined to lead precisely to where we expect it. Although the reality of Street Kings would make such an outcome a surprise to everything Tom has come to know, we’re saddled with the irreversible baggage that we’ve seen enough stories like this, particularly as written by Ellroy and Ayer, to think that its protagonists are well behind the ball we’ve already put in the hoop. Out anti-hero also gets not one, but two women to play the growing conscience inside his head. His actual squeeze (Martha Higareda) only gets to worry when Tom hits the headlines while Washington’s widow (Naomie Harris) goes from scorning to sympathizing to thanking him for his efforts with neither character more than just a pristine plot device to throw a monkey wrench into the mind of an interesting protagonist.

Street Kings doesn’t appear to be as interested in shuffling through the red tape of justice’s moral quandaries. It’s basically an action picture juxtaposed with a pale mystery that admirers of L.A. Confidential could see coming back to 1997. The script (co-credited to Kurt Wimmer & first-timer Jamie Moss) also retains elements of Ellroy’s significantly underrated 2002 cop drama, Dark Blue with Kurt Russell in the Ludlow-esque role of a cop doing the dirty work for dirtier bureaucrats using their political influence to protect their earnings. The full spectrum of the dirty deeds done in Street Kings are never fully clear. There’s one mention of the “cookie jar” but it takes a full-on explanatory scene in a car to divulge details that aren’t especially shocking and is more a string of cliches than a loud blow of the whistle.

David Ayer has specialized in the “men-in-cars” screenplay. Sure, The Fast and the Furious can be on that list, but I’m speaking more to Training Day (which Street Kings also owes a huge debt to) and his woefully mishandled debut, Harsh Times, which is as intense a film I’ve ever seen at a festival and features one of the strongest performances of the last decade by Christian Bale. Ayer clearly has a handle on the material and knows how to run the plays, especially in his shootouts which are appropriately bloody and over-the-top in a realistic sorta way. While the screenplay begins to tire out – and rather quickly in the hard-edged dialogue (compare Reeves’ opening standoff between the thugs and his fellow officers with the more open-faced standards later on) – Ayer continues to chug along and rarely pauses for a breath except in the scenes with the women. Reeves has received his share of scorn over the years for his stone-faced interpretations (and one can just see someone like Bale adding an extra layer to Ludlow) but he’s just fine here and has earned as much over time especially with those like Paul Walker, Josh Hartnett and, now, Jim Sturgess, to take the bulk of the “who thought they were a leading man?” questions. Street Kings, despite opening strong, never quite reaches the level of Ayer’s or Ellroy’s previous cop dramas nor the outlandish complexity of TV’s The Shield, but admitting it as well-made is still high praise in a day and age where we’ve literally seen it all.

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originally posted: 04/11/08 14:00:00
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User Comments

5/27/11 brian LA Confidential meets Training Day; less stylish than the former, depressing as the latter. 3 stars
12/25/09 Jeff Wilder Reeves did okay. But the movie is standard. See The Departed instead. 2 stars
6/08/09 mr.mike Training Day was convincing , this is not. Reeves is just OK. 3 stars
5/26/08 Double M Very predictable, cliched, often lame and barely average all around. A step down for Ayer 3 stars
4/28/08 ravenmad fast paced, lottsa guns, Grit. Killer performances! 5 stars
4/23/08 L.A. Francois Typical police corruption, but held my interest. 3 stars
4/18/08 kaz love me a dirty cop movie.. 5 stars
4/11/08 Neo its dammmmmm goood 5 stars
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  11-Apr-2008 (R)
  DVD: 19-Aug-2008



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