Fox // 2008 // 109 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 19th, 2008
Their city. Their rules. No prisoners.
Look, let's get this out of the way right now: Street Kings is essentially The Shield: The Movie. The Shield is, of course, awesome. And Street Kings...
...is close, but not quite memorable.
It starts with some spunk, as we're introduced to main character Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves, The Matrix), a hard-ass LAPD detective in the thick of taking down a group of child-raping Koreans with extreme prejudice. Vic, er, Tom is a cop who's willing to break whatever rules stand in the way of wiping out the bad guys. And if that means planting evidence and manipulating a crime scene, so be it.
For his commanding officer (Forest Whitaker, Vantage Point) this is all swell, and he's quick to unload accolades and congratulations on his favorite weapon, or "the tip of the spear," as he calls Tom. Things get down and dirty, when Tom learns about his former partner possibly ratting him out to a the captain of Internal Affairs (Hugh Laurie, House) and the guy is bloodily mowed down in a convenience store. Teamed up with a young homicide detective (Chris Evans), Tom embarks on a violent journey to uncover the truth.
This film sports a cast akin to Battle of the Network Stars! So many recognizable faces from the small screen: Forest Whitaker, doing an amped-up version of his Cavanaugh character from The Shield, John Corbett, Hugh Laurie, Jay Mohr, whats-his-name from Prison Break, Terry Crewes, Kathy Lee Gifford. Well, not Kathy Lee, but I was half-expecting her or Regis to show up guns blazing.
Reeves is tasked with the most to do, as his investigation is the engine driving the film. I like the guy, and though he brings his trademark wooden style to the role, I liked the character. Badass Ludlow is a dangerous and unpredictable, which is especially important because not much else in the film is. I also like Chris Evans, who unfortunately seems wasted here, though he's got the second-most amount of screen time.
Street Kings is largely made up of wasted opportunities. With interesting characters, a tenuous environment, and an at-first intriguing mystery (birthed by legendary crime author James Ellroy), the movie should have been a slam dunk. So, why did I have only a ho-hum reaction to it, when the end credits rolled? It's that "predictable" thing. If you have any doubts about the identity of the villains, even early on, you really need to watch more movies. Director David Ayer tries to milk the reveals for dramatic punch, but the only sentiment that entered my mind was: "Big surprise." (That would be sarcasm by the way.)
Keeping with the wasted theme, here's another guy who got shafted: Hugh Laurie. Anyone who's caught an episode of House knows this guy has the acting skills to pay the bills. But homeboy's in only a handful of scenes, never once feels like a threat or a savior (both of which he's supposed to be), and seemingly shows up only to blast out some exposition. A title card can do what he did, or at least a lesser-known actor who wouldn't be lamented for his waste of talent.
Finally, it has to be said that the LAPD does not come out looking particularly noble here, which is ironic (and a smidgen disconcerting) given that the focus of the DVD extras is on real officers and their heroism. The boys in blue come off worse here than in The Rodney King Case documentary.
While Street Kings is a bit of a disappointment -- I was so primed for a hardcore cop movie -- Fox continues to impress me with another Blu-ray winner. The 2.40:1 transfer is blisteringly clear; the harsh tones of LA rendered with clarity and beauty throughout. Colors vary from the darkness of the 'hood to the sandblasted landscape of an abandoned cabin and a shallow grave, all of which are compelling. Moments tend to stand out to me during these HD reviews, moments that just say "Wow look at what hi-def can do!" That moment in this film: A close-up of Whitaker in his apartment and how you can see every line and detail in his face. Amazing. The sound -- DTS 5.1 lossless -- rocks. The score is aggressive and pounding, and when the bloody mayhem goes down, you'll think you're in a shooting gallery.
Extras: Almost overwhelming, starting with a laid-back commentary from Ayer and moving into the highlight, a robust set of picture-in-picture interviews (which can also be viewed straight through as standalones) featuring real cops, the director, and the actors. Drilling down further reveals a writing featurette, a tour of the film's setting with the technical advisor, a feature looking at the big name African-American co-stars, the HBO First Look special, deleted scenes, alternate takes, a selection of vignettes, and behind-the-scenes clips.
Great audio/video work and a stunning array of bonus features overshadow the slightly-better-than-mediocre cop movie contained within.
Not Guilty, though Internal Affairs is on to you.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director's Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Takes
* Digital Copy