Far-fetched story line corrupts cliche-ridden drama
April 11, 2008 4:00 AM
Keanu Reeves stars in "Street Kings."
By Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Street Kings" has a top-notch cast -- led by Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker and Hugh Laurie -- and 107 minutes worth of dialogue that sounds as if it has been recycled from every old cop show and movie in existence, plus a few that long ago disintegrated to dust.
Among its lines:
• "You went toe-to-toe with evil, and you won."
• "This is your mess, and I'm cleaning it up."
• "You're just a rung in the ladder I'm climbing."
• "The thing you want -- you think you want -- you don't want."
A little of that goes a very long way in this corrosively cynical look at police corruption and cop-cowboys called "gunslingers" in modern-day Los Angeles.
David Ayer, who wrote "Training Day" featuring Denzel Washington as a rogue cop, directs this time around. Reeves is Tom Ludlow, a widowed Los Angeles cop who is perceived as a hero by the media and a racist or rule-breaker or just a guy who gets the job done by his fellow officers.
If he has to suck down some vodka, kill a few slimeballs, plant some evidence and lie about it, to free teenage girls held captive by pornographers, so be it. If a former partner greets him with, "If it ain't L.A.'s deadliest white boy," that's the price Tom pays. Besides, his boys in the vice unit, including his boss and mentor, Jack Wander (Whitaker), have his back.
And, as we learned on "NYPD Blue," anyone from Internal Affairs is the enemy and not to be trusted. Here, that department is represented by Capt. James Biggs (Laurie), who tries to trick and pressure Tom into talking, especially when a cop is murdered and he's suspected in the death.
James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss wrote "Street Kings" and it's rooted in the real world but so far-fetched about its one-man justice machine and trail of bodies that it quickly spins out of control.
Ellroy wrote the "L.A. Confidential" novel that was turned into an Oscar-winning screenplay by Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland. That was a dense film noir about corruption beneath the sunny image of 1950s Los Angeles.
Now, the dishonesty seems to run as deep as the earthquake fault lines beneath Southern California. In fact, growing old gracefully in L.A. might be as rare as an honest cop or one who doesn't batter an informant with a phone book.
Every now and then, amid the cliched exchanges that pass for normal conversation, a line that sounds authentic slips through, as in "You know how this works. This week's suspects, next week's victims."
"Street Kings" assembles a terrific cast of unlikely suspects as cops and criminals -- John Corbett, Jay Mohr, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Common and The Game -- and sends them into the heart of darkness. Its portrait of pervasive venality and lawlessness, however, is too preposterous to buy.