This bloody L.A. showdown pitting rogue cop vs. dirty cops is nothing more than Training Day mashed with Dark Blue. It could be because David Ayer had a hand in writing all three streetwise tales of police corruption.
Boy, does Ayer have it in for crooked cops. He's on a one-man crusade to rid Los Angeles of anyone on the job who happens to be on the take. Heck, he's even willing to ferret out aspiring police officers whom he believes would only bring shame to the L.A.P.D., as shown by his directorial debut, Harsh Times. Indeed, Keanu Reeves' maverick cop Tom Ludlow is much like Harsh Times' whacked-out Jim Davis--had he been accepted into the L.A.P.D. and later made detective. Ludlow's not corrupt, but he's happy to shoot first and then plant evidence to make things look like they were done by the book. And he does it with the blessing of his boss, Capt. Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker). Wander's got Ludlow's back because he's got dirt on anyone who's anyone. But now Ludlow's ex-partner Terrence Washington (Terry Crew) is babbling to Internal Affairs' Capt. James Biggs (Hugh Laurie) about all the bad stuff he did with Ludlow. By sheer coincidence, Washington's executed by masked gunmen right before Ludlow's eyes. Evidence suggests that Washington was selling drugs and that he paid the price for double-crossing some dealers. Ludlow buys into this--at least until he and Det. Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) realize nothing is what it seems. Oh, really?
Sorry, but even after Speed and The Matrix series, it's hard to accept the slacker formerly known as Ted "Theodore" Logan as a badass. As Ludlow, Reeves doesn't come close to capturing Dirty Harry's spare-no-mercy swagger or conveying Frank Serpico's unwavering belief in bringing down dirty cops. So Ludlow's nothing more than your typical booze-filled, race-baiting cop who has no qualms about breaking the law to enforce the law. Twenty years ago, Reeves would had played young turk Diskant. Now it's the turn of a student of Reeves' "Whoa!" School of Acting. To be fair, Evans shows some emotional range. The one-two punch of Sunshine and Street Kings indicates Evans is making headway in improving as an actor. He also brings more attitude to the illicit goings-on than Reeves does. Whitaker, however, may have mistaken Street Kings for a sequel to The Last King of Scotland. He storms through crime scenes, gesturing wildly and barking orders with all the imperial pomposity of Idi Amin. At least he's having fun. Same goes for Laurie, whose testy "rat squad" bigwig is merely Dr. Gregory House with a gun and badge. John Corbett and Jay Mohr inexplicably try to pass themselves off as hard-as-nails cops right out of The Shield, but fail hilariously.
Street Kings--a term describing the cops who consider L.A. their personal fiefdom--is a great disappointment after Harsh Times. Ayer showed great ambition with that grim character study, even if it felt at times like a civilian version of Training Day. With Street Kings, Ayer and crime novelist James Ellroy--who previously collaborated together on Dark Blue's script--seem content to rest on their laurels. Ludlow's investigation takes him where you expect it to take him, ensuring the big reveal at the end hardly comes as a shock. The characters never surprise you. If you suspect someone's corrupt, he's indeed corrupt. And the dialogue? It's an ear-grating mix of police jargon, street drug slang, and tough-guy BS. That said, Ayer keeps things rolling at a brake-neck pace as he turns L.A. into his own personal war zone. The bullets fly fast and the bodies drop even quicker. He so draws you into this fascinating world that you can't help root for Ludlow--a man of very little moral fiber--to dispense with all the human garbage who stand between him and the truth. Street Kings affirms that Ayer has his finger on the pulse of L.A.'s mean streets. He knows how the minds of the city's cops, clean and dirty, and the gangbangers work. But after Dark Blue, Training Day, Harsh Times and Street Kings, what is there left for Ayer to say about a good cop gone bad?
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.