“Street Kings” may have one of the year’s most depressing screen credits: “Story by James Ellroy. Screenplay by James Ellroy and Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss.” That’s right — the filmmakers had an original story and screenplay by one of the greatest living crime novelists, but somewhere along the line some genius decided, “Hey, let’s bring in the guy who wrote the movie version of ‘Sphere’ to punch this thing up. Oh, and you’ve got a third writer with no screen credits? Even better.”
The result is a movie with lots of macho moxie that winds up getting bogged down by lots of yelling, not to mention a plot twist that anyone over the age of eight should see coming within the first five minutes. Seriously, the Act III reveal in this movie is ludicrously obvious that I thought surely we were being set up for the real twist later. Nope.
Keanu Reeves stars as Tom Ludlow, a hard-drinking cop who prefers shooting suspects — and then altering the crime scene so it looks like he shot others in self-defense — to arresting them. His unconventional style and close ties with his shady and powerful boss, Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker), put Tom in the crosshairs of internal affairs chief Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie). (Whitaker and Laurie get one shouty face-off that’s mostly pointless, but it inspires fantasies of a “Dr. House vs. Idi Amin” spin-off project.)
Ludlow tails his former partner Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) after learning that the fellow brother-in-blue has been talking to Biggs. Ludlow follows him into a convenience store with gun drawn, but two gangbangers with automatic weapons come in for their own execution-style slaying of Washington. Because he’s on the scene, Ludlow becomes an obvious suspect, but Wander and the rest of his team manage to cover everything up. But when Ludlow tries to seek out Washington’s murderers, he finds thread after thread in a web of conspiracy.
Directed by David Ayer (“Harsh Times”), “Street Kings” has the unfocused energy of a pitbull pup; audiences aren’t likely to be bored, but the experience does grow exhausting, particularly since the plotting is so plodding and obvious.
And while there are some entertaining supporting performances — John Corbett (sporting a goatee that makes him look like Ben Affleck) and Jay Mohr as corrupt cops — the film is mainly a showcase for shouting. Reeves has several scenes with Chris Evans, making “Street Kings” feel like a passing of the torch between vacuous, pretty-boy leading men of subsequent generations.
It’s sad enough that, with the notable exception of “L.A. Confidential,” the movies haven’t been particularly kind to the great novels of James Ellroy. But now they’ve eliminated the middleman and stomped all over his original script as well. It’s a crime.