Street Kings

2008, Movie, R, 109 mins


There are two kinds of police officers in David Ayers and James Ellroy's convoluted, ultraviolent tale of corruption within the LAPD: dirty cops and dirtier ones.

Vice detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) answers to Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), an old hand at navigating departmental politics and the only reason Ludlow is still on the force. Always a loose cannon, Ludlow went completely off the rails after his wife's sordid death, and his latest exploit -- slaughtering a gang of Korean sex traffickers under what could charitably be described as dubious circumstances -- requires serious spin control. Fortunately he managed to rescue a pair of kidnapped underage twins in between opening fire and staging the scene, so not only does he get off scot-free, but Wander scores a promotion. If only Ludlow's former partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), weren't talking to Internal Affairs, and if only Ludlow hadn't been filmed arguing with him moments before Washington was mowed down in a seedy convenience store by a pair of machine-gun-toting thugs. Ludlow's brothers in blue have his back, but he's forced to take a transfer to the civilian-complaints desk until things cool off. If Ludlow were smart, he'd lie low and stop trying to find Washington's killers. But if he were smart, he wouldn't be Ludlow, and his warped sense of honor blinds him to the fact that there's more to Washington's death than meets the eye.

The story is pure Ellroy (though two other writers, Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss, had a hand in the screenplay), from the ripely stylized dialogue to the universe of dirty deeds so pervasive and casually cruel that a Tom Ludlow -- loyal, dogged and none too bright -- comes out looking like the last good man in hell. The trouble is that everything that worked brilliantly in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) and DARK BLUE (2003) falls flat here: Not one of the actors can make Ellroy's words sound convincing and the web of deceit and betrayal into which Ludlow blunders is both ludicrously complicated and thoroughly predictable: If you don't know who's lurking at the center of the web, you've never seen a self-consciously cynical cop thriller. Much of the eclectic supporting cast, which includes Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Amaury Nolasco (of TV's Prison Break) and Naomie Harris, is sadly underused, and overall the story feels outdated, perhaps because Ellroy originally set it immediately after the 1991 Rodney King riots. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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