Street Kings is a dull and tired cop movie, which would have benefited from better casting choices and much more innovation.
Based on a screen story by acclaimed crime author James Elroy (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Street Kings stars an out of place Keanu Reeves as hard edged Detective Tom Ludlow, an alcoholic, widower, and glorified hitman with a badge, who takes out the scum of the earth under the direct orders of his Special Vice Squad Captain Jack Wander (an over the top Forrest Whitaker), who uses his powerful influence over his superiors to cover his detectives illegal form of justice.
When Ludlow’s former partner Washington (Terry Crews) is murdered, Ludlow is deemed suspect number one, due to Washington snitching on Ludlow to internal affairs. To honour his memory – and clear his own name – Ludlow decides to find Washington’s killers, whilst seeking redemption in the murky depths of police corruption.
A big reason why Street Kings just does not work lies in the miscasting of Keanu Reeves, who just does not bring the desired intensity needed to make his character work. Reeves is not an intimidating presence in this picture (even though he excelled doing so in The Gift), and his performance – as well as the film – suffers as a result.
Supporting Reeves are a talented cast of players who provide mixed performances. Chris Evans is bland, Jon Colbert and Jay Mohr are wasted, yet Cedric the Entertainer provides a surprisingly well tuned performance in a minor role as a snitch.
The most interesting turns belong to Forrest Whitaker and Hugh Laurie as feuding police captains, Whitaker in particular chewing up and spitting out his scenes as if his life depended on it.
Director David Ayers is something of an expert with L.A. cop thrillers, having written Training Day and written/directed the Christian Bale led Harsh Times, and one would think that by taking on an Elroy screenplay would have been a match made in crime movie heaven.
Instead, what is presented is a re-hash of tired cop clichés, with the story formulaic and filmmaking so poorly structured, that viewers will be able to figure who Washington’s killers were within the first 15 min, and then had to endure Reeve’s deer in the headlights look whilst he bumbles through his investigation.
On top of all of this are a number of insipidly shot and choreographed action scenes, which feature violence aplenty but no suspense or excitement.