By Clint Morris
As much as he likes to try, Keanu Reeves isn’t able to play a wide variety of roles. He near ruined Francis Ford Coppola’s â€˜’Dracula” with his abysmal English accent (â€˜’I have well, offended you with my ignorance, Count… like, ah, forgive me”.), didn’t quite succeed in convincing us he’d passed the bar exam in the legal-thriller â€˜’The Devil’s Advocate”, and fails to play a romantic lead each and every time (unless, of course, he’s helping his love steer a bus off a half-finished highway overpass) – whether Sandra Bullock is standing opposite him or not.
The one thing Reeves does seem to be able to play though – and, funnily enough, it’s probably the furthest from real-life Keanu – is a cop. He rocked â€˜’Point Break” with his cocky, slick Johnny Utah but more so, forced audiences to put all their trust in him as his Jack Travern floored an out-of-control bus in the smash-hit â€˜’Speed”.
In â€˜’Street Kings”, Reeves re-inherits the badge. Only this time, he’s less of a superhero and more of a normal guy. Imagine â€˜’Speed”’s Jack five years after losing Sandra Bullock to Jason Patric and you get the picture.
Reeves is at his best – must be something to do with the badge, or the gun, or a combination of both that brings out the most in the man – as LAPD cop Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves), a screwed up son-of-a-bitch whose still mourning the loss of his wife, and as a consequence, constantly juicing on liquid energy.
This chap is a bit of an anti-hero – he’s the guy the captain (Forest Whitaker) calls in to â€˜take out’ (and that he does – guns a blazing!) the garbage, when the boss feels their number is up, whether the victims open fire first or not.
When Ludlow receives a tip that his former partner, Washington (Terry Crews), might be about to rat him out, he sets off after him – seemingly, just to punch his lights out, nothing grave. This is where things take a stern turn (hey, that rhymes!).
The frenzied copper follows Washington into a convenience store where – surprise! Surprise! – their brawl is followed by an unplanned (or is it?) shooting by a couple of gang-bangers, that leaves the snitch dead. Of course, now it’s going to look like Ludlow had something to do with it – enter, the Captain, whose only too glad to rid of the store’s surveillance tape. Once again, Ludlow’s in the clear.
This is all well-and-good, thinks Ludlow, but if the captain is happy to cover up this… what else is he capable of, and what other skeletons is he hiding in his closet? With the help of a wet-behind-the-ears colleague named â€˜Disco’ (Chris Evans – given much more to do here than he’s ever been given in â€˜’Fantastic Four”, or its sequel), the conflicted copper sets out to get some answers.
If you’ve seen â€˜’Copland”, â€˜’Training Day” or â€˜’Dark Blue”, you’ve seen this. There’s not much new in director David (â€˜’Harsh Times”) Ayer’s film. It’s predictable thinly written fluff; a film that might otherwise have went direct to DVD if it didn’t feature such a stupendous cast.
Having said that, if you’re in the mood for a good leave-your-brain-at-the-door popcorn actioner, there’s a lot here to munch on. There’s plenty of fun scenes here – a highlight is seeing Reeves’ burnt-out copper smashing a suspect over the head with a phone book, a few million times – and the cast is terrific (it’s nice to see guys like Jay Mohr, whose usually stuck in mindless comedies like â€˜’Are We There Yet?” and â€˜’Picture Perfect”, and John Corbett, best known for his TV stints with shows like â€˜’Sex & the City” and â€˜’Northern Exposure”, getting to play against type for a change. In the case of the latter two, they play uber-corrupt and rather deadly coppers. Cedric the Entertainer and Hugh Laurie also play dissimilar characters than we’re used to seeing them play).
The production values of the film are also superb – the cinematography is amazing, the music packs a punch, and the action sequences are captured terrifically. But mostly, it’s good to see Reeves giving something resembling a performance – something he doesn’t do too often. He’s actually â€˜good’ here – rather than â€˜tolerable’, which is what most will expect.
Unfortunately, the story lets all those other â€˜good’ elements down though – it’s just not original enough, which is a shame, and a surprise – considering three writers worked on the movie, one being famed crime-pic writer James Ellroy (â€˜’L.A Confidential”).
Switch off – then enjoy.
Over 25 deleted scenes (yep, bit much), a commentary track by Ayer, and 10-making of featurettes (none especially that interesting).