It’s going to take a mound of evidence to convince me that Street Kings isn’t a parody. The film is entertaining, yes, but that often comes with police dramas laced with over-the-top tough-guy dialogue, brute violence, and a penchant for implausible plot twists. We know that director David Ayer and a screenwriting team lead by James Ellroy is capable, but Street Kings plays directly into the hands of those who love unintentional comedy.
Keanu Reeves stars as Detective Tom Ludlow, a binge-drinking cop who has an even bigger chip on his shoulder after the sudden death of his wife. He takes care of LAPD’s worst scum, but he’s none too happy that his former partner, Terrence Washington (Crews), is ratting out his activities, which seriously toe the line of legal, to the Captain (Laurie). When Washington turns up dead, all eyes in the department shift to Ludlow as a prime suspect. In an effort to clear his name, he begins to expose a ring of police corruption so huge that it seems impossible. And it is.
If you like your dialogue as salty as Tostitos (there must be between 200-300 F-bombs) and your violence nice and in-your-face, then by all means unplug your brain and enjoy. Street Kings aims for nothing more than brute force, and on that paltry level it gets things done. The issue is that it’s so over-the-top that it detracts from a story that I think we’re supposed to be taking seriously.
The unintentional humor, and there is plenty to go around, mostly comes in the form of some off-kilter casting and plentiful overacting. How are we not supposed to laugh at Cedric the Entertainer (and you know he means business when he includes his last name in the credits) turning up as a badass drug lord? Or Hugh Laurie as basically House the police captain? Or Jay Mohr with a push broom mustache? And last, but certainly not least, we have Forest Whitaker at his sweaty, spitting best. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good, but then again I don’t think he was in on the joke.
Street Kings runs the cliché well dry in its first forty-five minutes, but that doesn’t stop it from being strangely entertaining. It’s a fine definition of the “ok, how can they make this even more preposterous?” kind of flick. I’ll credit the screenwriting team for inventing some new cussing techniques and keeping the tone as hateful as possible. How else could a police corruption saga function? I was halfway expecting Leslie Nielsen to make a cameo appearance as the coroner.
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Length: 109 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence and pervasive language.
Theatrical Release: April 11, 2008
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: James Ellroy & Kurt Wimmer & Jamie Moss.
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr