Slipping in under the radar amongst this weeks U.K releases is Street Kings, the second directorial offering from David Ayer, the producer and writer of Training Day. Written by James Ellroy, Street Kings follows Keanu Reeves’ veteran cop Tom Ludlow through a week or so of his life in Los Angeles as part of a special vice squad headed by influential Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whittaker).
Take an Ellroy story about corruption in the police force and add in all the above ingredients as well as supporting turns from the rising Chris Evans, the majestic Hugh Laurie and fashionable rapper The Game and you should have a recipe for box office success. Strange then that audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have reacted with antipathy to the film with initial U.K figures suggesting an extremely poor opening weekend to go with a U.S gross currently only amounting to around a quarter of 21’s total take.
The reason for this is immediately apparent only a short distance into the film; we’ve seen this all before. A hard-hitting opening soon gives way to moody shots of Los Angeles which look like a cross between the aforementioned Training Day and Michael Mann’s Collateral. As the film develops its obvious that Ayers is an aficionado on the cop genre. Late developments immediately bring to mind Man On Fire with Reeves’ Ludlow taking on the impenetrable, untouchable air of Denzel Washington’s character, Creasy.
Reeves himself has bulked and beefed up considerably since the last time we saw him in 2006’s The
Lake House and A Scanner Darkly. The effect is impressive and Ayers use of close ups and framing shots bring his inimitable presence to the fore. It’s a clever effect and adds to Reeves’ character considerably but ultimately it only brings to mind another reference; Ray Liotta’s performance and physique in NARC. Again it’s relatively obvious Ayers and Reeves have both seen it and learnt from it and there’s even elements of Jason Patric’s trigger happy hero as well as Liotta’s brooding anti-cop.
With such familiar fare the film needs a strong element of narrative and direction from Ayers and Ellroy but what it gets is again tired and practiced. The twists are entirely predictable and Ellroy never introduces anybody that looks even semi likely to be the villain other than the obvious candidate (something which even the trailer doesn’t shy away from knowing). Laurie’s character provides the most interesting and entertaining distraction from Reeves’ rampage but Ayers can’t shift the focus to make him quite interesting enough.
Ultimately the film isn’t completely without merit. Despite staying within his comfort zone Reeves at least here takes on a character with a bit more substance behind the eyes, even if he can’t entirely reveal him to us. There’s also some impressive violence on display which does, on the whole, manage to justify itself to the more discerning amongst us. Noticeable as well is the booming score by Graeme Revell which drives and moves the film along with speed and judgement in the background, completely in-keeping with the already established mood. The influences the film takes on board are, in the end, too great to not produce a decent final product, its just unfortunate that the talents of Ellroy and Ayers can’t produce anything more original than Training Day, Mark Two.