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Dustin Putman

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Street Kings  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by David Ayer
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris, Common, The Game, Martha Higareda, Amaury Nolasco.
2008 – 109 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence and pervasive language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 10, 2008.
Continuing in the tradition of 2001's "Training Day" and 2003's "Dark Blue," "Street Kings" serves to further tarnish the LAPD's credibility by depicting virtually every single person on the force as a dirty cop abusing their power to commit unlawful acts. It's a story that has been played out more times than can be counted—director David Ayer alone has been responsible for all three of the aforementioned pictures, penning the scripts for the former two—and is none too fresh on this go-round.

Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran cop whose inability to deal with the sudden death of his wife has left him prone to rash acts of violence on suspected thugs and criminals, a fact that has, thus far, been promptly swept under the rug by supportive superior Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). When fellow officer Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), someone Tom publicly has it out for, is gunned down during a convenience store ambush, Tom happens to be at the scene of the crime, and the implications don't look good. With the help of rookie detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), Tom sets out to find and, one can only presume, kill the two mystery men who committed Terrence's murder. Things, however, are not as they first appear. Are they ever?

"Street Kings" is a tromp through familiar territory, and not one of the better examples of it. Screenwriters James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer (2006's "Ultraviolet") and Jamie Moss are well-equipped to build and develop a plot and characters, slowly peeling back the layers as all the elements move into focus, but they also aren't above overwrought, borderline-silly revelations at the expense of any kind of moral stance. Who, exactly, is the viewer supposed to be rooting for? Save for the two significant female roles—Naomie Harris (2006's "Miami Vice") as Terrence's widowed wife, and Martha Higareda (2007's "Borderland") as Tom's concerned nurse girlfriend—the characters are unsavory, corrupt and often lacking a basic conscience. By default, Tom is the de facto protagonist, but just because he's emotionally troubled doesn't absolve him from drinking on the job, putting innocent people in harm's way and becoming a gun-happy vigilante.

Fifteen years ago, Keanu Reeves (2006's "The Lake House") may have been accused of being a wooden actor who got lucky in reaching A-list status, but he has deservedly put that behind him and proven his talent and range. Reeves is excellent here, intense and believable as a bitter cop who has begun taking the law into his own hands. His character is perhaps too out of control to truly get behind as an audience member, but he does look positively saintly next to his fellow ensemble. The rest of the oddball cast, a mixture of dramatic thespians, rappers and comedians, are a mixed bag. Chris Evans (2007's "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer") seems a little out of his element as Tom's makeshift partner Paul Diskant, Hugh Laurie (TV's "House" and 2002's "Stuart Little 2") overdoes it as a suspicious police captain hot on Tom's trail, and Cedric the Entertainer (2008's "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins") gives possibly the best performance of his career as Scribble, a fast-talking druggie who assists Tom in pinpointing the whereabouts of the suspects.

"Street Kings" ably keeps one's attention as the plot thickens, and there are a few thoroughly suspenseful moments as Tom finds himself in some precarious situations. The third act, though, grows more illogical by the second, and the ending, lacking a much-needed arc for Tom, leaves one wondering what the point was. Director David Ayer displays a gritty promise behind the camera, and would likely do a bang-up job with stronger material. "Street Kings" simply brings nothing new or different to the "bad cop" subgenre.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman