A dirty, vodka-swilling detective exacts his own brand of justice on the mean streets of Los Angeles in the ultra-politically incorrect thriller, “Street Kings.”
Veteran LAPD detective, Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a ticking time bomb. Distraught over the death (and infidelity) of his wife and spending most of his time drunk, he and his crew are hell bent on taking it on the bad guys using absolutely any means necessary. Ludlow establishes the complicated tone early on when he initially insults some Korean thugs who in turn beat his a– and jack his ride. After tracking down the thugs, he kills them all, while staging the scene to give the appearance that a shootout occurred. Ludlow gets a bonus when he discovers two abducted Korean girls that were the source of a city-wide manhunt.
While everyone is elated that Ludlow solved the case, no one is more thrilled than his mentor and squad commander, Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). Well-respected and highly connected, Wander has eyes on being Chief of Police or possibly even Mayor. But his pride and joy is his renegade squad that will lie, cheat, steal and even kill to close a case. The unquestionable star of his squad is the enigmatic Ludlow. “You went toe to toe with evil and you won,” says Wander congratulating Ludlow on solving the case.
But his act is fooling everyone and soon Ludlow runs into opposition from his former partner, Detective Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) who knows him better than anyone and knows exactly what he is – a racist, dirty cop. Also sniffing around Ludlow is Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) who has a strong hunch that this hero may be nothing but a sandwich – and a very bad one at that. When word surfaces that Washington may be talking to I.A. to take Ludlow down, the dirty detective seeks to settle the score with his old partner. While confronting Washington, Ludlow finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time as adversary is gunned down execution-style. With Ludlow the first at the scene of another high-profile case, Biggs’ intensifies the heat on the embattled detective.
But in a crucial moment between him and the protective Wander, Ludlow begins to discover his conscience and wants to bring his former partner’s killers to justice. Told that he is “the tip of the spear,” Wander and his crew bunkers down to protect him. Intent on finding the killers, Ludlow enlists the help of another detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) to help him crack the case. Using every violent and illegal means at their disposal, the two slowly unravel all the clues to bring them to a conclusion that neither man expects. Will Ludlow have the strength to follow through on his new found conscience to solve the case? Just how far will the powers that be go to try to stop him from finding the truth.
Two established L.A. crime storytellers, James Ellroy (“L.A. Confidential,” “Cop” and “Black Dahlia”) and David Ayers (“Training Day,” “Dark Blue” and “Harsh Times”) combine to give this film its much needed authenticity. While actors such as Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Kurt Russell and Christian Bale were able to add layers of complexity to their characters, Reeves’ inability to display that type of range is what makes the film fall flat. A one-note actor, Reeves is overmatched by the demands of the story and unlike Washington never gives filmgoers a reason to remotely root for him. Ayers casts him as a modern-day John Wayne blazing a trail to administer his brand of violent justice. His monotone performance leaves the film unbalanced and him no match for the complex performance given by Whitaker.
In addition the racial politics of the film too closely mirror Ayers’ earlier film, “Training Day.” In this film, Reeves’ represents Washington’s character in the early part of the film and later morphs into Ethan Hawke character in the second act. Whitaker is cast as the corrupt Black power-grabbing egomaniac reminicent of Denzel’s star turn. The fact that Ayers has consciously made the decision to portray these traits or characteristics as African-American has me questioning his ulterior motives and what he is truly saying about corruption in the LAPD.
Unfortunately, audiences have seen countless stories of dirty cops and this film not only doesn’t break new ground, but insults filmgoers by offering a finale that is so unreal it begs for an additional explanation. During a crucial scene, one character screams out, “I’m the King of Secrets,” much in the way that Washington exclaimed that “King Kong ain’t got sh– on me!” While imitation is sincerest form of flattery, repetition is just plain boring. The end result is that Reeves is clearly no “Street King,” just bully with a badge!