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STREET KINGS (director: David Ayer; screenwriters: James Ellroy/Kurt Wimmer/Jamie Moss/based on a story by Mr. Ellroy; cinematographer: Gabriel Beristain; editor: Jeffrey Ford; music: Graeme Revell; cast: Keanu Reeves (Detective Tom Ludlow), Forest Whitaker (Capt. Jack Wander), Hugh Laurie (Capt. James Biggs), Chris Evans (Detective Paul Diskant), Martha Higareda (Grace Garcia), Naomie Harris (Linda Washington), Jay Mohr (Sgt. Mike Clady), John Corbett (Detective Dante Demille), Amaury Nolasco (Detective Cosmo Santos), Terry Crews (Detective Terrence Washington), Cedric the Entertainer (Scribble), Common (Coates), The Game (Grill); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Lucas Foster/Alexandra Milchan/Erwin Stoff; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2008)
“Disposable crime flick.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on LA stationed crime novelist James Ellroy’ (“Black Dahlia,” “White Jazz,” “LA Confidential”) gritty realistic script and bestselling novel, and cowritten by Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss. It comes with such bon mots as “We’re all bad” and “Blood doesn’t wash away blood,” and a questionable message that it might be ok to bend the rules to get results–emulating a Dirty Harry code of ethics that operates outside the law in the name of justice. The plot turns on questions of failed ethics among flawed policemen, who have one of their own dirty members have a reawakening to discover what’s morally right but he still can’t help but carry out his now benevolent task in an underhanded rogue way–leaving us in gray territory.

David Ayer (“Harsh Times”), who wrote the script for Training Day, keeps it as kickass entertainment with an eye out for the box office of the young male viewer and uses some finely strung together action sequences to roll it along at a breakneck pace over the familiar mean streets of the modern day hardboiled crime film. It also cynically and grimly lets us know that it’s no big surprise that institutionalized police corruption exists from top to bottom and springs on us the usual host of colorful characters sporting their machismo and wisecracking dialogue that melts smoothly into the background of the seedy urban atmosphere like butter on toast. It goes without saying there’s no character development, everything about the plot and all its twists are incredulous, and it becomes instantly forgettable as just another disposable crime flick that titillates us vicariously by giving us thrills over seeing the bad dudes receive some pain.

The story centers around the loner tragically widowed hotheaded tough-guy Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), of an elite detective unit in the LAPD, who pukes when he awakes in the morning, starts drinking those small airplane size bottles of vodka through the rest of the day and then the rogue cop without a call for backup executes a gang of Korean sex traffickers and frees twin girls they captured by not following police procedures and tampering with the crime scene so it looks like they started the gunplay. But his Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), a devious old pro at navigating such dubious situations, has Tom’s back with good spin control and gets him newspaper headlines as a hero while he gets a promotion.

But Tom’s dander gets up when Wander and his loyal team of good ole boys stoke him up by telling him his former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), turned snitch and is talking to Internal Affairs’ chief Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) about him. Wander gives Tom big brother advice to stay away from Washington and that he’ll handle him, which turns into empty words as Washington is gunned down in a convenience store robbery by two machine-gun-toting gangbangers and there on surveillance tape is Tom fighting with Washington in the aisles just before the killers burst into the store–actually trying to warn the disbelieving cop about an impending robbery. Again Wander comes to the rescue, by stealing the surveillance tape and spinning a story that clears Tom of any suspicion. Tom is told to forget about looking for the cop’s killers, but for some inexplicable reason he feels obligated to go after the killers of a man he hated. This comes after Tom’s assigned to desk duty answering civilian complaints and told to sit tight until things blow over.

The not overly bright but very physical Tom plunges full-steam ahead and uncovers that Washington was rubbed out in a contract hit and his investigation opens up a can of worms where he can’t extract himself from going head to head with cops who are even dirtier than him.

Cedric the Entertainer has a rare dramatic turn playing a flashy ghetto small-time pusher.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”