Street Kings (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

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Street Kings borrows so heavily in plot, tone and pace from Training Day that comparisons are inevitable, and while Street Kings is a thrill-a-minute roller coaster of action, Ayers is not Antoine Fuqua and Reeves is not Denzel Washington.

Keanu Reeves stars as a bad cop who is bad for all the right reasons in Street Kings, the latest film based on the works of novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia). This modern cops and criminals noir mines the same vein as the pulp literature in its lineage. The film is filled with clichés, predictable plot turns, and standard one dimensional characters, but director David Ayer (Harsh Times) concentrates on the action and keeps the pace moving at breakneck speed so the story flaws do not have time to fester. Ayer’s credits include writing work on S.W.A.T. and Training Day and he learned valuable lessons watching those productions.

Street Kings borrows so heavily in plot, tone and pace from Training Day that comparisons are inevitable, and while Street Kings is a thrill-a-minute roller coaster of action, Ayers is not Antoine Fuqua and Reeves is not Denzel Washington. It was the confluence of those efforts that made Training Day special. The cast of Training Day, and Washington specifically, were able to overcome the flaws their script and imbue their characters with depth beyond the stereotypes they were given. The cast and crew of Street Kings are faced with the same obstacles, and while they all deliver no one is able to push the film beyond the constraints of the linear one note script.

Reeves plays Detective Tom Ludlow, a hotshot veteran who still approaches the job with the zeal and naiveté of a rookie. He bends and breaks the rules, but not for personal gain, only to more effectively do the job. At first glance this may seem a darker and different role for Reeves, and it maybe could have been, but it is quickly apparent this character does not stray far from Reeve’s simple regular guy just trying to do his job under extraordinary circumstances. While the part does not stretch Reeve’s acting muscles he does deliver. He is intense and brings passion and presence to the screen. He snarls, charms, and shoots at all the right moments.

Detective Ludlow is part of a squad lead by Forest Whitaker that includes Jay Mohr and a handful of other detectives that resent Ludlow and the kudos and favoritism his dedication garners him. Whitaker’s Captain Jack Wander is Ludlow’s mentor and friend. He values Ludlow’s devotion and single-mindedness and uses his lack of guile to get things accomplished. Whitaker is suitably forceful and conniving, a career cop who cares more about climbing the ladder than cleaning up the city. Mohr plays his usual snarky comic relief with verve.

Chris Evans, the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, matches intensity with Reeves as the wet-behind-the-ears detective Ludlow must work with to solve the murder of his ex-partner/nemesis. Hugh Laurie is underutilized as the internal affairs captain intent on using Ludlow for his own purposes. A solid list of character actors and rappers fills out the cast of cops and criminals admirably.

The tragedy of Street Kings is the quality ensemble and worthy visual production are wasted on a silly plot more predictable than a bad episode of Cold Case and unfortunately no actor is given anything to grab onto in any of the characters. | Bobby Kirk

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