- Rated R
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All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by David Medsker
funny thing happened halfway through “Street Kings”; it turned into a parody of itself. It begins promisingly enough as a humorous, streetwise cop drama, and then a certain, um, entertainer appears, and the whole movie is lost in a haze of clichés and overacting. Didn’t “Hot Fuzz” kill movies like this for good?
Keanu Reeves stars as Detective Tom Ludlow, a morally ambiguous cop who’s still reeling from the death of his wife. Tom is furious to discover his former partner-turned whistleblower Washington (Terry Crews) is ratting him out to Internal Affairs Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie), and when he goes to knock Washington down a peg, he ends up witnessing Washington’s brutal murder at the hands of two masked gunmen. It looks for all the world like Tom planned the shooting, and his boss, Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker), tries to tell Tom to lie low for a change. But it is not in Tom’s nature to lie low, so he recruits a desk cop (Chris Evans) to help him find Washington’s killers. The deeper Tom gets, the more suspicious he becomes of, well, everyone around him.
One gets the sense that James Ellroy’s involvement with the screenplay adaptation of his story ended somewhere after Reeves’ hilarious line to a couple Korean thugs, when he teases them because they “dress black, talk white, and drive Jew.” In other words, Ellroy’s contributions end around the five minute mark. From there, the story is Ellroyian in terms of being littered with dirty cops, but it’s more “Point Break” and “Training Day” than “L.A. Confidential.” And not the good, shades-of-gray parts of “Training Day” but the “I’m King Kong!” parts of “Training Day.” It’s as if director David Ayers, who wrote “Training Day,” forgot which parts of his own screenplay made the movie so compelling.
Reeves is teased for his laconic acting style, but the truth is that he wouldn’t continue to get work if there wasn’t something to it. He goes overboard at the end, but so does everyone else. Heck, Whitaker goes so far over the top that the Academy should consider rescinding his Oscar. Chris Evans, as usual, is fine but unremarkable. Laurie, on the other hand, plays his part like it’s just another episode of “House.” Not a bad idea, really; to invest any more effort in it would have been a waste of time.
For all of the experience that Ayers has in the dirty cop genre – along with “Training Day,” he also wrote “Dark Blue,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Harsh Times” – you would expect “Street Kings” to be better than it is. Being a Fox Searchlight movie raises expectations somewhat as well, since they’re pretty much the hottest studio in Hollywood at the moment. You can’t hit them all out of the park, though, and while “Street Kings” looks good coming off the bat, it’ll wind up in the stats as a deep fly out.