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Review

Reeves mediocre in predictable police drama ‘Street Kings’

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April 16, 2008

If there’s one thing that David Ayer and James Ellroy know, it’s dirty cops. Ayer previously penned the scripts for such flicks as “Training Day” and “S.W.A.T.,” and he and popular novelist Ellroy even collaborated on “Dark Blue” (which still features Kurt Russell’s hands-down best performance ever, but I digress).

  The pair has pooled their talents once again for “Street Kings,” a crime saga set on the streets of L.A. that seems like it’s going to tread cinema’s thin blue line for the umpteenth time.

  Indeed, “Street Kings” isn’t without its hokier and more predictable moments, but the unusual amount of character development and conflict found in the plot make all the difference in helping make this flick a cut above your usual police story.

  Keanu Reeves toplines as Tom Ludlow, a corrupt cop whose dirty dealings actually do some good. He’s part of a hush-hush division of the LAPD that’s dedicated to going to whatever lengths possible to deliver justice to the city’s scumbags, even if it means altering the crime scene after blowing them to kingdom come. Ludlow is a master of his craft, but after learning that his ex-partner (Terry Crews) has been snitching to Internal Affairs, Ludlow decides to confront him, only to land smack dab in the middle of a supposed robbery that leaves the partner dead as a doornail.

  It’s not long before IA starts sniffing around and pegs Ludlow as a potential suspect, but Ludlow has his own agenda in mind. Teaming up with a young detective (Chris Evans), our troubled hero launches himself headfirst into an investigation of his old buddy’s shooting, crossing paths with not only L.A.’s criminal ilk but also with some colleagues who don’t want Ludlow digging too deep.

  Like the recent “21,” “Street Kings” is an example of what happens when a little extra effort is made in telling a story that would otherwise seem old hat.

  Instead of just going through the motions of being a cop drama, “Street Kings” goes one step further by including, God forbid, fascinating characters and a central mystery that actually earns your interest. Ellroy, along with fellow screenwriters Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss, don’t focus the story so much on the gunfights and car chases as they do on the motivations behind them, ensuring that Ludlow is deeper than the average action hero.

  But as decent as he is compared to previous performances, Keanu Reeves just doesn’t have what it takes to bring to the surface the sort of conflict and inner turmoil that a guy like Ludlow would suffer from. Reeves just guzzles down some vodka and swears, expecting that to convey his inner emotions.

  As imperfect as it is, though, “Street Kings” manages to find itself a comfy little place between being your basic, shoot-’em-up action flick and hard-hitting character study.

  Come to see the ballet of bullets, stay to give two flips about the guys being shot at.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.