April 08, 2008

Street Kings

Morpheus has really let himself go...

Grade: C
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, and Naomie Harris
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

At one point during the formulaic Street Kings, Keanu Reeves’ woebegone Det. Tom Ludlow refers to a suspected police slush fund as “some real Serpico sh*t.” The same description could easily be applied to this prosaic police procedural, although feel free to substitute any among the legion of bad-cop movies it leeches, including screenplays previously penned by director David Ayer, from Training Day to Dark Blue to S.W.A.T.

When he is not the celebrated "tip of the spear" for his LAPD vice squad and its power-hungry commander (Forest Whitaker), Ludlow is a racist lush whose best friends are the mini-bar bottles of vodka he swigs while on-duty. In one of many undeveloped subplots, we also learn that Ludlow’s late wife died after suffering a brain hemorrhage while having an affair with another man. Now, Ludlow walks that beaten path separating good and evil, where the suspects you plug and then plant drugs on happen to be the ones keeping 14-year-old Asian girls locked in a cage in their basement. Funny how these conflicted movie cops always “frame” guilty people.

After learning that his ex-partner (Terry Crews, as if that is not warning) has allegedly turned IA snitch, Ludlow follows him to a neighborhood convenience store and watches helplessly as he is machine gunned down by a couple of gang bangers. Himself a suspect, Ludlow launches a mission to find the real killers, which includes – quite incredulously – riding shotgun with the case detective (Chris Evans) assigned to investigate the murder.

Street Kings’ depiction of a retched, rotten-to-the-core police apparatus is both too dismal and too rote to hold any shred of plausibility. The script-by-numbers, adapted by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) from his own original story, is littered with plot road-markers, illogical turns, and wooden movie-speak: “This thing you think you want…you really don’t want.” Indeed, the entire narrative is built around a basic plot twist any sentient moviegoer will see coming, oh, 20 minutes into the film.

Whitaker and Hugh Laurie cope with poorly-written roles as dueling LAPD captains by trying to out-Method each other, while the casting of Cedric the Entertainer as a street hustler temporarily turns this poor man’s The Shield into an episode of Starsky and Hutch. It is more than a little telling that the standpoint performance – relatively speaking – is a brief appearance by the rapper Common.

And then there is Keanu Reeves, who is…well, Keanu Reeves. His mumbling version of a Cop in Crisis™ needed less Scanner Darkly and a lot more Speed. Whoa, indeed.

Neil Morris

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