David Ayer, who wrote Training Day, gives us another unflinching look at disillusionment and questionable decision-making within the ranks of the LAPD. Ayer's second directorial effort tells the story of burnt-out Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), a functioning alcoholic and undisciplined detective with the Special Vice Unit. While so much of this characterisation appears resonatingly familiar at first, we soon learn that the character here has been tweaked. While this loose cannon in no way does things by the book, he is also far from playing by his own rules. Ludlow is relied upon by the other detectives in the unit, and by their almost maniacally ambitious Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker), to go outside the law whenever needed. The infractions he is pressured to commit are quickly and uncomplainingly covered up by Captain Wander, while Ludlow and the rest of Special Vice receive accolades for their high clearance rate. Not until one of these cover-ups leads to the brutal murder of his ex-partner (Terry Crews) does Ludlow try to dispel the apathy (and the vodka fumes) clouding his purpose. This procedural melodrama is almost completely internalised within the LAPD, as Vice cops investigate Narcotics cops, who snitch on Homicide cops, and no one talks to Internal Affairs, etc. Crimes are staged, executed, and pinned firmly on suspects with alarming efficiency as the necessary DNA, murder weapons, and fingerprints are then sprinkled around the scenes after the fact. A study in familiar elements slightly skewed, Street Kings provides a satisfying dose of bright, loud, violent police work blended with the right amount of discreetly passed interoffice envelopes to keep the taut intrigue in step with the body count. Little time is wasted on exposition, and the audience's ability to extrapolate is given a great deal of credit as Ludlow's dead wife, substance abuse, and past career troubles are flashed at us briefly, then put away in favour of the crisis at hand.
Offers English audio description.
Street Kings 2: Motor City
Marty Kingston (Ray Liotta) is an undercover narcotics detective who is shot and barely survives a drug bust gone wrong to save the life of his partner. When his partner is killed by a masked gunman four years later, Marty must team up with hothead homicide detective Dan Sullivan (Hatosy) to investigate a string of brutal cop murders and hunt down the cop killer. The investigation that ensues is shrouded in deception and loaded with plot twists that question the line between the rules of law and justice.
Offers Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles.
Street Kings is a pungent bouquet of corruption, violence, multi-ethnic mayhem, macho glee laced with macho angst, and fluorescently obscene dialogue from the mind of James Ellroy. Its hero, though he'd scarcely consent to be called one, is L.A. police detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), for whom life is a wound that won't heal and dealing out retribution to scumbags is the ongoing treatment. Ludlow's the star player--"the tip of the [expletive] spear"--on a team of detectives headed by Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). Coach Wander relies on his boys to keep breaking lurid cases, usually through deeply darkside underground work, and raising his profile with the media and the department. In pursuit of these goals, nothing is forbidden except failure, and the truth is what you make it look like.
This is familiar Ellroy territory, most effectively translated to the screen in L.A. Confidential (which should have won the 1997 Oscar, and would have if Titanic hadn't launched that year). If you know Ellroy's ground game, you can pretty much guess where Street Kings is going, and where it's been. Still, the twists and torques of its urban road-rage course maintain the centrifugal force needed to hold us in our seats (a tactical highlight: refrigerator adapted as rolling barricade), and the movie keeps bopping us with oddball casting coups: comic Jay Mohr and Northern Exposure/Sex and the City veteran John Corbett as two members of Coach Warden's gonzo detective squad; Cedric the Entertainer doing a nicely nuanced turn as a street creature; Hugh Laurie doing a less-hyper version of House, if House worked Internal Affairs. The problem is that director David Ayer keeps everything intense. Dialogues are shot too close-up, line readings are too strident, the action is too nonstop slam. Recall Curtis Hanson's L.A. Confidential and the mind's eye summons up a whole spectrum of existence, mood, place, historical period, emotional investment; there's an amplitude to the picture and the sensibility bringing it to us, something besides the whodunit and the endless rap sheet of nasty what-they-done. Everything in Street Kings is one-note, and with Keanu Reeves playing it implosive and Forest Whitaker locked in crazier-than-an-outhouse-rat mode, that's no way to stay the course. --Richard T. Jameson