Street Kings is primarily focused on examining two types of police officers seen in many a film before: the rogue cop who disregards the law in the name of justice and the cop that appears to follow the rules but is deeply corrupt. You would think that in the hands of a talented guy like director David Ayer, who is well-versed in the handling of this kind of gritty material (having written Training Day and directed Harsh Times) this movie would be not only entertaining but also darkly unnerving.
So, was it entertaining? I think for some people the answer is definitely "yes" — the violence is raw and in your face, the story is intriguing, and the smorgasbord of famous male actors makes for a fun ride. Did it make me feel anything? Nope. And that's actually a shame because there was so much there to work with, but instead I left with the sense that everyone involved decided to sit back, tap into their inner nihilist, and get down to killing.
To see what parts I think are fun and what parts are downright silly,
Reeves plays Detective Tom Ludlow, a man who's having a hard time and numbs whatever pain haunts him with a lot of alcohol. He also has zero regard for the "law" part of "law enforcement," and seems to break all the rules those lawyers on Law & Order are always concerned with, lest their cases get thrown out on a technicality. He doesn't necessarily take pleasure in blowing people's brains out once he's determined they're wrong, but he definitely doesn't show restraint either. In other words, the man's a live wire. And this is the guy who ends up being the moral center of a universe full of some very corrupt people.
Those people include, well, just about everyone in the film. Once Ludlow begins to yank at a string he's been repeatedly warned against yanking by his boss, the ambitious Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), it becomes clear that an entire division of L.A.'s finest are dirty. Thus, Ludlow starts heading down a trail into some of L.A.'s harshest neighborhoods and the dens of some extremely bloodthirsty villains.
The movie relentlessly strives for realism with each violent act, and bookends each one with the kind of machismo dialogue you can't help but roll your eyes at. Similarly, anytime a character waxes poetic about the nature of good and evil or the seductive influence of power and greed, it's delivered in such oversimplified prose that you might find yourself screaming "No duh!" at the screen. The best parts about the movie are the unexpected and talented performances that pop up, like Hugh Laurie as a salty captain, Cedric the Entertainer who's totally convincing as a thug, and Common who, with the delivery of no more than three lines, perfectly embodies pure evil.
If you don't require a little nuance with your bloodbaths, you might have fun. Otherwise it's a frustratingly dumbed-down experience.
To see the trailer and more clips from Street Kings, check out movies.ivillage.com.
Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight Films