Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Similar to David Ayer’s last film ‘Harsh Times’, which also takes place in the dirty sub world of Los Angles that the screenwriter cum director has so much love/hate for, I feel almost the same way about that film that I feel about his present film ‘Street Kings’. That would be that I love the way the man can handle a camera, shoot and compose a scene, and can create a brutal gritty atmosphere, but I sure don’t love the way he tells a story. Or should I say I don’t love the way his stories progress as they seemingly get more and more out of control the longer they go on.

When we meet Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) he is awoken by his alarm clock having slept the night in his clothes, wakes up, barfs in a toilet, brushes his teeth and goes about his day drinking tiny bottles of liquor and selling illegal arms to a couple of Asian gangsters. As apparently was planned, they kick his ass then steal his ride and once Ludlow finds out where his ride is he busts up in their crib, kills every last one of them and sets free a couple of kidnapped girls these cats were using as internet sex slaves. Turns out that Ludlow works for a special squad of vice officers who work way on the outskirts of good police procedure under the very watchful eye of their captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker) who uses his crew of vice vigilantes, with Ludlow as the ‘tip of the spear’ as he calls him, to eliminate the absolute worst that the city has to offer without all of that troublesome Due Process and Miranda nonsense.

Complications arise in Ludlow’s ex-partner Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) who knows full well how dirty Ludlow, Wander and their colleagues are and is apparently talking to Internal Affairs director James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) which has Ludlow’s panties all in a bunch. He’s so pissed off at his ex-partner that he follows him for sole purpose of breaking his jaw, despite the vehement demands of his captain that he stays away from him. Perhaps Ludlow should have listened because as he follows

Washington into a quickie mart, he is a witness to his ex-partner getting mowed down by a couple of bangers in a hail of automatic gunfire while Ludlow hides away trying not to get shot himself. Now the problems start to pile up because there is a video tape of the shooting showing Ludlow and Washington having an altercation before the gunman take him out which could easily be construed that Ludlow had something to with the killing. Though Ludlow hated Washington, he didn’t want the dude to die so he starts trying to figure out who actually had him killed, despite the fact that the case has been all but closed by the young investigating officer Detective Diskant (Chris Evans) in an attempt to keep Ludlow clear from anymore Internal Affairs scrutiny. Never one to let well enough alone, Ludlow, now with Diskant by his side, keeps pushing for the truth and as we can probably imagine, when he eventually finds the truth he’s not going to like it a whole helluva lot.

For the most part ‘Street Kings’ is my kind of movie. Brutal, violent, harsh, unforgiving, unrelenting. I don’t need clearly defined good guys and bad guys in my movies as I often find I enjoy a film much more enjoyable if those lines of right and wrong are blurred somewhat leaving the audience to decide on their own what they feel is the right or wrong thing that should have been done, which I think Ayer has managed to pull of with ‘Street Kings’ fairly masterfully – at least until the end. In the absence of a white hat hero and a black hat bad guy we do need characters we have some interest in so that we care what the hell happens to them in some way, and here is where the narrative falls bit short of the mark. Keanu Reeves character of Tom Ludlow, when the film started, was a murdering out of control drunk. A bad cop being controlled by even worse cops, there’s no denying this, and watching his self destruction and observing Forest Whitaker’s Captain Wander make use of this pathological police officer created for the makings of a great movie. Then as the movie went along, the tarnish on Ludlow’s badness started to become cleaner and cleaner and by the time it got to the finish line his badge was so shiny clean that you could barely look at it without burning your retinas. Give me a break. Where was all this righteousness before. This turn was completely disingenuous to the tone of the story to this point as far as I’m concerned. Now I don’t know if this was by design or not but then there was the Keanu / Forest factor in that Whitaker’s character made a much better argument justifying his behavior than Reeves made in opposition, thus making the end game far less satisfying than I ‘m guessing it should have been. Perhaps because Whitaker is a better actor than Reeves? Or perhaps this is what Ayer was shooting for in the first place. Not that it matters because by this point this narrative had swung so wildly out of control with shootouts, Houdini escapes, double crosses and characters reeking of ‘Dead Meat’ that getting it back to merely manageable was pretty unlikely.

I tell you man, I like the way David Ayer’s movies look and sound and feel, and though he would probably take this as insult, considering he probably prides himself as a writer first and director second, I figured since he let someone else handle the script writing duties that the story behind his obvious directing abilities would have made ‘Street Kings’ a really good movie. It was not to be as ‘Street Kings’ certainly ran high on atmosphere but ran on empty when it came to logic.

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