U.S. Release Date:
April 11, 2008
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: David Ayer
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Producer: Erwin Stoff, Michelle Weisler (executive)
Composer: Graeme Revell
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie, Forest Whitaker, Naomie Harris, Cedric the Entertainer, Common
Running Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (strong violence and pervasive language)
The foul-mouthed, generically named Street Kings, starring Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker, is a campy slice of stale anti-heroism. Sometimes, lines are so awful it's impossible not to laugh.
None of this is really the cast's fault. The script and direction are terrible, though it manages to crawl up out of the gutter into a credible plot. Street Kings actually has its moments. They're as rare as the number of honest cops in this corrupt police lineup.
Reeves, solid as ever and fine for this type of role, is a cop sleeping with his gun like he's on chronic nightwatch. He's grimy, he's on guard, and his days are a chore filled with spent beer bottles on the kitchen counter.
In case the malevolence is missed, the extremely loud Street Kings depicts a dreary Los Angeles, where the sun, like the residents, particularly policemen, is always going down, down, down. Street Kings makes its cousin, The Departed, look like a family matinee.
When Reeves' detective encounters a Korean brute during an undercover deal, the thug and the badge hurl insults at one another like a couple of backstage understudies. Reeves throws a racial tantrum and the Korean calls Reeves "a faggoty nigger." Do gangbangers really talk like this? The ultimate target of this exchange is equally sensationalistic: twin children as sex slaves.
The Reeves chap, part of a corrupt ring led by top cop Whitaker, looking like he showed up for a part in The Godfather, is caught in a bad way when his ex-partner (Terry Crews) is gunned down in the movie's most conspicuous plot turn. The only one who doesn't instantly get the extremely obvious plot point is the Reeves character.
From there, the severely deprived Street Kings carries on, piling on racial epithets, characters and subplots, including a pointless subdrama about a dead wife that screams to be cut from the script. As Reeves tries to toe the corruption line, hold Internal Affairs at bay and get a fix on a new addition to the force (Chris Evans), the action moves toward two criminals known as Fremont and Coates.
As anti-hero Reeves maintains a passive, lifeless posture somewhere between Whitaker's heavy and Internal Affairs, the screen is littered with bad writing and bad acting. Reeves, Whitaker and the cast—among them Jay Mohr and a slew of familiar faces—do their best but only steady Evans, Reeves and Naomie Harris escape the slapfest.
Lines about vaginal swabs, blowback from the Korean community and an over-the-top climax for Whitaker (also overacting in the gimmicky Vantage Point), in which he declares himself something like king of the world, make Street Kings look like an episode of Starsky and Hutch if it were swiped by a jacked up Huggy Bear. Since every character is either bad or well on his way and up to here in excess, Street Kings achieves its goal of being the anti-Untouchables; police are uniformly portrayed as pigs and, as usual, any exceptions end up six feet under.
Parts of it are bearable, there's the unintended humor, it follows its own logic and Street Kings probably looks better after a few martinis. A chase involving the Evans character and a thug is exciting—Reeves' cop puts a stop to it in the movie's best scene—and a refrigerator-driven blood spat smacks a criminal down with style when it counts.
Street Kings slithers and sloshes in blood, guts—with not one but two lengthy throat-gurgling deaths—and badness. "Serious overkill," one character deadpans and he might as well be describing this bunch of malarkey.
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