Street Kings is a bizarre and admittedly kind of fascinating cop movie. It suffers from what on the surface (and well, not so surface) is an “all cops are corrupt, even the good guy” plot that has been done before. It suffers from the limited range of Keanu Reeves in the lead role as the one not-so-clean cop that is trying to unravel the corruption within his own department. And it suffers from giving John Corbett a potty-mouth (which is truly snicker-inducing… nice try to break out of your nice-guy persona, John).
But there are several things that Street Kings has on its side. The film was co-written by James Ellroy, he of the modern film noir, who shook up detective dramas with his award-winning tale L.A. Confidential. The film is ably directed by David Ayer. And the film is filled out with a surprisingly solid supporting cast, including Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie, and Cedric the Entertainer.
Keanu plays Detective Tom Ludlow of Los Angeles’ Vice Special Unit. Not sure what that unit does, but what Tom seems to do is crack important cases through, well, unorthodox means. He thinks nothing of shooting first, and asking questions later. He states at one point, “We’re the police. We can do whatever the hell we want. It doesn’t matter what happens… it is how we write it up.” At the beginning of the film, Tom gets media notoriety for solving the case of a couple kidnapped twins. His way of “solving” it is to get his ass kicked by thugs, strap on a bulletproof vest, and go into a house alone, obliterating four armed men. Well, the police report polishes the story a little differently… but you get the idea. His ways are kind of dirty, but he gets the job done.
But when Tom’s ex-partner Washington (Terry Crews) gets mowed down super-violently (as in double-machine guns) in a convenience store right in front of Tom, well, he’s out to avenge the murder of a guy that wasn’t really his friend. By the time all is said and done, it is practically Shakespearean, not because of Keanu’s acting skills, but because almost every major character is dead from some super-violent means.
Street Kings really only started to lose me after, say, the 10th twist, which arrives late in the game at about an hour and a half in. I just about threw up my arms in frustration, as yet another seemingly good character turns bad, and Tom continues on his vigilante ways. The finale, regardless, is still kind of vaguely satisfying, so the film is worth sticking with for the long haul. You could certainly do a lot worse than with the creative folks behind such films as Training Day and L.A. Confidential. You could do a LOT worse.
The DVD of Street Kings includes feature commentary by director David Ayer, deleted scenes, alternate takes, and a few featurettes, including L.A. Bête Noir: Writing Street Kings, which does not live up to the potential of its name. I was hoping for James Ellroy, but he is nowhere to be seen as others, including co-writer Kurt Wimmer, talk a little about the writing of the film… the most interesting tidbit being that it was originally written to take place during the era of the Rodney King trials (explaining the particular explosiveness of the racial tension).