Takin’ it to the ‘Street’

Sure, it’s good to be the king, be it Henry VII, Billie Jean or Stephen. But there are so-called “kings” of questionable virtue.

1)       The King of Pop: A dandy whose contributions to the music arts have been eclipsed by his personal predilection for young squires in his kingdom.

2)       Burger King: Rules by treating his subjects to high-fat, empty-calorie meals; contributes to obesity epidemic; stars in rather creepy commercials where he’s often depicted as a voyeur.

3)       Chess King: Flagrant violator of many laws of fashion; turns a blind eye while keeping his minions ensconced in garish, pseudo-suave outfits.

We can now add the “Street Kings” to the list of those with dubious contributions during their sovereignty. While it possesses a few complimentary attributes, its overall merits are overshadowed by a number of tired cinematic truisms.

Keanu Reeves heads a cast of misused and miscast talent in the latest police drama from a man (director David Ayer) who certainly has some issues with the boys in blue in the Los Angeles area.

Ayers, serving as director here, has penned some rather poisonous peeks into the force, including Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning turn as a morally bankrupt cop in “Training Day,” Kurt Russell’s corrupt cop in “Dark Blue,” and served as director in a tale of a young psychopath’s (played by Christian Bale) attempt to gain a spot on the force in “Harsh Times.”

In “Kings” he follows a number of officers on a morally squalid squad who overzealously get their men, while allowing their commander (played by Forest Whittaker) to clean up any mess – such as evidence – they left behind.

And while the film boasts some electric dialogue by hard-boiled novelist James Ellroy, it’s hobbled by across-the-board performances and a plot that is as subtle as the Rodney King video.

Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, an alcoholic, haunted force veteran who, after years if suppressing both emotion and evidence, is starting to grow a conscience. Already the role requires far too much nuance of which the limited actor is capable.

Reeves can skate by in roles that require him to appear dazed and confused (the “Bill & Ted” pictures, “The Matrix”), but when he’s asked to add subtleties of any sort, he’s walking well out of his range.

Whitaker apparently feels as though he must take up the slack, not only for Reeves, but for everyone else in the film who doesn’t get a fair chance, cinematically. Contorting his face and body to deliver even the most simple stretch to the point of unintentional comedy.

Meanwhile, the other names involved are handed throwaway parts that undercut any talent they may have. Hugh Laurie, for example, co-stars as an internal affairs officer who’s trailing Ludlow and looking to eradicate a corrupt cadre of policemen. His entrance into the film is straight out of a sitcom, though. Laurie, the current star of “House” first appears on the screen after peering from behind a curtain in – wait for it – a hospital. You half expect the soundtrack to kick in a laugh track at that point.

As mentioned earlier, there are some electric lines, probably written from Ellroy. But the best-selling author of “L. A. Confidential” and “Black Dahlia” also shares the screenplay billing with Kurt Wimmer (the director of the infamous “Ultraviolet”) and newcomer Jamie Moss. The result is a string of clichéd set-ups and takedowns that have been featured in far too many cop dramas of both big a little screens.

It brings little new to the precinct and while some snappy dialogue and scenes of intricate tension earn “Street” cred, all the “Kings” men could not put this film together again.

~ by usesoapfilm on April 14, 2008.

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