, 109 min, 2008
Director: David Ayer
Writers: James Ellroy (screenplay) and Kurt Wimmer (screenplay) and Jamie Moss (screenplay), James Ellroy (story)
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie
Here is a violent, over-the-top melodrama that swings for the fences, attempting (apparently) to be the corrupt cop film to end all corrupt cop films – and that’s the best thing that can be said for it.
Street Kings stars Keanu Reeves as Detective Tom Ludlow, a drunken, racist, widower who is also a vigilante cop working on an elite team run by Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), who makes no apologies about sending out Ludlow to clean up the streets in off-the-books fashion. Ludlow was once partners with Terence Washington (Terry Crews), who (apparently) was ready to “dime out” Ludlow as a corrupt cop; that would be somewhat akin to telling the crow it has wings.
Ludlow’s current partners in crime, if you will, are Sgt. Mike Clady (Jay Mohr) and Detectives Dante Demille (John Corbett of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and TV’s Sex and the City) and Cosmo Santos (Amaury Nolasco of TV’s Prison Break), none of whom ever quite seem to match up to Ludlow’s own level of creephood.
One day, Ludlow is driving along off-duty when he sees two gang-bangers about to rob a convenience store. He beats them to the place, planning to lie in wait, but who is there but his former partner, convinced Ludlow is there to assassinate him (he may not be far off from the truth). Ludlow and Washington try to take out the gang-bangers but Washington is hit, partially by a stray bullet from Ludlow’s gun, and dies holding Ludlow’s hand. Captain Wander wants to preserve Ludlow’s career, and advises him to destroy the disc from the video camera, effectively erasing Ludlow’s participation in the incident.
Soon, fresh-faced Detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans of Cellular) is on the case, working for Internal Affairs, which is run by Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie, doing his best House impersonation), who can’t seem to decide if he wants to take Ludlow down or pull him under his wing.
That’s quite enough of the plot, and yet there’s more, including a snitch called Scribble (Cedric The Entertainer!) and a couple of thugs who may or may not be what they appear to be (one of whom is played by rapper Common). It’s all quite lurid and over-the-top, which is normally a compliment for me, but something’s rotten in the state of Denmark.
The film was directed by David Ayer, previously known as the writer of such corrupt cop sagas as Training Day (2001) and Dark Blue (2002) – so he’s no stranger to the subject. This is his sophomore directorial effort after the small-scale, low-budget disaster which was Harsh Times (2005). Here, Ayer’s plot (and it’s a doosy) has been provided by novelist James Ellroy’s original script (which was then, we sense, heavily re-written by Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss).
The film has twist after twist before arriving at a conclusion that is all but inevitable – and rather predictable. The material borrows from those previous films I mentioned as well as superior cop sagas, including Ellroy’s own L.A. Confidential (filmed by Curtis Hanson in 1997). The results then are not as bad as they could be, but not quite good enough either. Think of this film as the corrupt cop version of reheated pizza – it’s never quite as tasty as it was the first time around.