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Street Kings
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by Peter Sobczynski

"From the Creators of "L.A. Confidential" and "Ultraviolet"
2 stars

Although it is always dangerous to speculate on the various inspirations that artists use to create their work–you run the risk of developing some wildly elaborate theory involving obscure 16th-century Flemish paintings, only to discover that the real source was an old Woody Woodpecker cartoon–but I think in the case of David Ayer, we can comfortably assume that most of his artistic output to date has its genesis in a parking ticket received around the year 2000 that he deemed to be wildly unjust and which he never allowed himself to forget. Until that time he was known for penning the screenplays for "U-571"and the agreeably silly "The Fast and the Furious" but since that time, he has dedicated his career to making films that would expose the police for the corrupt and venal scum that he believes them to be. He started off by writing the screenplay for "Training Day," in which Denzel Washington play a wildly corrupt L.A. cop putting an idealistic officer (Ethan Hawke) through a harrowing hazing, and quickly followed that up with "Dark Blue," in which Kurt Russell played a corrupt L.A. cop caught up in the riots following the Rodney King verdict. Next up was "S.W.A.T.," a film that I don’t claim to remember much about but I am almost certain that it contained at least a few corrupt L.A. cops. After that, he made his directorial debut with "Harsh Times," in which Christian Bale played a corrupt, violent and borderline deranged type trying to get a spot in the L.A. police force. With his latest directorial effort, "Street Kings," he is working from a screenplay not written by himself but fear not, it is also about wildly corrupt, venal and violent L.A. cops wreaking havoc. According to IMDB, Ayer’s next screenwriting project is a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s "The Wild Bunch"–how much do you want to bet that the finale involves a showdown between our anti-heroes and a group of corrupt L.A. cops who have inexplicably relocated to Mexico?

Keanu Reeves stars as Tom, a two-fisted, hard-drinking, borderline racist L.A. cop who specializes in one-man missions that save the innocent (such as young Korean girls kidnapped to be sold into slavery) and defeat the bad guys in ways that spare the city from having to go forth with one of those pesky trials. Although his actions have caught the attention of a Internal Affairs rep (Hugh Laurie) who would love to bust him, Tom has thus far been protected by his association with a fast-rising superior (Forrest Whittaker) who is well on his way to being named the chief of police). However, when Tom learns that his former partner (Terry Crewes) may be planning on ratting him out to IA, he goes off to confront him one afternoon in a drugstore but before he can do so, a pair of gangbangers barge in and shoot up the joint, killing the partner. Despite the existence of a videotape showing Tom on the scene and a mysterious bullet that doesn’t match either of the guns known to have been used in the crime, Tom is once again protected but is sent down to the complaint department until things blow over. However, something about the case begins to nag at the remains of Tom’s conscience and he begins to investigate matter for himself and uncovers an ever-widening web of corruption that threatens to reach to the highest corridors of power and makes him even more of a marked man than before.

"Street Kings" was co-written by James Ellroy, the brilliant crime writer whose long list of acclaimed novels include "L.A. Confidential" and "The Black Dahlia," and when you hear some of the tough guy dialogue on display here (especially Reeves’ opening monologue with the Korean criminals that he is making an undercover deal with), you can hear his distinct voice ringing through loud and clear. However, there are many other elements in the screenplay that are so one-note and puerile that I can confidently assume that they originated from co-writers Kurt Wimmer (yes, the guy behind "Ultraviolet") and Jamie Ross. The James Ellroy that I know and admire wouldn’t concoct a storyline that is so crashingly obvious that virtually every member of the audience will have sussed out who is at the bottom of the conspiracy at least an hour before it finally dawns on our anti-hero. The James Ellroy I know might have made his central character a racist but he would have at least explored this particular trait in an interesting way–here, the screenplay brings up the notion that Tom is a stone-cold racist (bolstered by the fact that most of his victims are minorities) and then refuses to deal with it in any way or even acknowledge it further, no doubt hoping to avoid offending moviegoers who prefer their corrupt and violent cops to be color-blind when it comes to racial matters. The James Ellroy that I know wouldn’t have taken a potentially interesting and cutting-edge story and infused it with the kind of half-baked clichés that we have seen before in so many other cop movies–not only does this movie give our dark and disturbed antihero a sweet and innocent girlfriend to make him seem a little more human and to deliver the standard speech about how he has to do the right thing, it underlines the point even further by naming her Grace!

Reeves isn’t bad–although I doubt he is anyone’s idea of what a corrupt veteran L.A. cop should look or sound like–and he acquits himself better than most of the rest of the cast. (Whittaker, in his first role since winning the Oscar for "The Last King of Scotland," is downright embarrassing at times as the superior). As for the rest, Ayer stages the action scenes with some flair and keeps things moving along at a pace that is quick enough to keep you from noticing all the plot holes, loose ends and missed opportunities until the end credits are rolling. At best, “Street Kings” is a boilerplate cop drama that will sort of satisfy the more undemanding fans of the genre but when you put it up against a great film about corrupt cops—William Friedkin’s masterful “To Live and Die in L.A.” comes to mind—it comes across as so silly and nondescript that it wouldn’t even be worth mocking in depth if they ever get around to making “Hot Fuzz 2.”

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17050&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/11/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

5/26/11 brian LA Confidential meets Training Day; less stylish than the former, depressing as the latter. 3 stars
12/24/09 Jeff Wilder Reeves did okay. But the movie is standard. See The Departed instead. 2 stars
6/07/09 mr.mike Training Day was convincing , this is not. Reeves is just OK. 3 stars
5/25/08 Double M Very predictable, cliched, often lame and barely average all around. A step down for Ayer 3 stars
4/27/08 ravenmad fast paced, lottsa guns, Grit. Killer performances! 5 stars
4/22/08 L.A. Francois Typical police corruption, but held my interest. 3 stars
4/18/08 kaz love me a dirty cop movie.. 5 stars
4/11/08 Neo its dammmmmm goood 5 stars
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  11-Apr-2008 (R)
  DVD: 19-Aug-2008



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