Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.
Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.
That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.
David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.
Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.
That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.
Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”
In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.
In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.
“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”
But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.
The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.
Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.
Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.
Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.
5 / 10
“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”
Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review