Dir: David Ayer. US. 2008. 107 mins.
A violent thriller about police corruption in Los Angeles, Street Kings retreads territory already covered by director David Ayer in Training Day and Dark Blue, which he wrote, and Harsh Times which he wrote and directed. Everything here is predictable, from the tired plot whose revelations are deeply unsurprising to the gritty dialogue and casual everyday violence of the cops involved.
Theatrical prospects are not strong in an era when procedurals like Law And Order and CSI deliver similar packages on TV every night, and it is unlikely to perform at a much higher level than Harsh Times or Dark Blue. A star-studded cast led by Keanu Reeves could boost its prospects and deliver sturdy TV and DVD numbers.
Loosely adapted from a story and original screenplay by LA noir king James Ellroy himself, Street Kings - formerly titled The Night Watch - has gone through numerous rewrites since Ellroy had his hands on it.
This is the contemporary LA of Training Day, where drug dealers rule the streets and bent cops make secret fortunes from their crooked collaborations with the dark side.
The hero, or antihero, of the story is Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a veteran detective still getting over the death of his wife (emotional damage is par for the course with these hard-bitten cops) and with a habit for swigging mini-bottles of vodka. Ludlow has a maverick style which often skirts the law in order to achieve justice. In the opening sequence, for example, we see him mercilessly gun down four Koreans in order to rescue the young girls they have imprisoned in their house.
Ludlow is protected by his superior and mentor Captain Jack Wander (Whitaker), especially now that Internal Affairs in the guise of Captain James Biggs (Laurie) are starting to sniff around, using testimony provided by Ludlow's former partner Terrence Washington (Terry Crews).
But when Washington is gunned down in a convenience store while Ludlow looks on, he becomes involved in the police investigation into the killing led by a rookie called Detective Paul Diskant (Evans). The two become unlikely allies as Ludlow resolves to solve the case, even though the trail of the killers soon leads back to the LAPD itself.
The chief pleasure here is watching Reeves embody the grizzled, world-weary Ludlow with such relish. The actor, now 44, drags the film along behind him in a trail of booze-soaked cynicism far removed from his days as action hero in Speed or The Matrix. Evans, the fresh-faced young star of Fantastic Four and Sunshine - who could be Reeves 15 years ago - works well alongside him, carrying the youthful torch that Reeves no longer wishes to bear.
Fine actors including Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Jay Mohr, Cedric The Entertainer and Hugh Laurie acquit themselves admirably but the material is no match for their talents. Indeed, Street Kings is so routine that it could be equated to the type of B-movie that existed in the golden days of Hollywood. But whereas those film noirs were cheap and profitable with many now considered classics, Street Kings is not cheap nor is it memorable enough to join their ranks.
3 Arts Entertainment
Fox Searchlight Pictures
North American distribution
Fox Searchlight Pictures
20th Century Fox International/Regency
James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer & Jamie Moss from a story by Ellroy
Director of photography
Cedric The Entertainer