Published Apr 10, 2008Street Kings is the kind of movie that begs the question: "Is there a casting agency that specialises in gangsta hookers? Its a dick-in-hand, mans movie that takes itself entirely too seriously, occasionally to an amusing degree. Its a shame that the film has no sense of humour about itself, as it really is an interesting analysis of systemic corruption and redemption viewed through the cyclicality of Ouroboros.
The film opens with Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) having an early morning vomit before brushing his teeth and heading off to work. Racial epithets and substance abuse follow Ludlow into an arms deal with known Korean gangsters, who inadvertently lead him to the location of two kidnapped girls about to be used for an underground snuff film. Ludlows "shoot first and ask questions later attitude leaves a grisly trail of bullet ridden criminals, much to the delight of his power-seeking Captain, Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker).
This all sets the stage for the gritty cop drama that Street Kings aims to be. Where it succeeds is in conveying character-driven plot twists and learned amorality. As the system itself is inherently corrupt, it leaves those operating within it to act uniformly. The world painted in Kings is one where everyone has secrets and any potential exposure of them is akin to signing a death certificate. None of this is particularly fresh but its handled with insight throughout, leading to a relatively effective (if drawn out) finale.
Unfortunately, the efforts to be edgy often backfire, leading to unintentional humour. The tough talking street vernacular is particularly strained, especially when being uttered by men in 3,000-dollar suits. This is in addition to the weathered alcoholic cop and young, naïve cop clichés. Bizarre attempts to integrate a hip soundtrack and unwelcome zooms into speeding cars round out the creative misfires.
However, the acting throughout is generally favourable, most surprisingly by Reeves. He plays the stock "alcoholic police officer in moral crisis quite well, mainly due to his trademark stoicism, which has been to his detriment in past films. On the other hand, Whitaker struggles with his oddly sketched character, often overacting.
Street Kings is a decent movie that will likely find a core audience; its just hard to take a film seriously that is so convinced of its own importance. (Fox Searchlight)