"Can't we all just get along?"
No Rodney, we can't. One would have to be Tasered and beaten repeatedly in the head to believe something so silly.
That we can't get along is confirmed in the new bad cop/badder cop noir thriller, Street Kings, which is set in America's symbolic capital of police brutality: Los Angeles (though New York is quickly gaining ground). In the Los Angeles of Street Kings, cops are drunken, psychopathic rapist/killers, who split their time between blackmailing and black-male beating. No time is devoted to showcasing police officers' more positive duties, such as issuing parking tickets.
David Ayer, Street Kings' director, mined similar cynicism about the LAPD with 2001's Training Day. But Ayer's rookie effort patrolled this beat more effectively. This is because Street Kings is highly predictable and Training Day's Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawk were arresting, whereas Keanu Reeves and his Street Kings co-stars merely detain. Street Kings is strongly paced and contains well-choreographed shoot-outs. But clichés-some of which achieve accidental hilarity-poor casting and a muddled moral earn it DVD desk duty.
Reeves stars as Detective Tom Ludlow, a policeman whose pre-killing-spree and pre-evidence-planting rituals include vomiting in the toilet and pounding mini-vodkas while driving. Ludlow "bleeds blue," but he's played by the automaton-like Reeves, so if he weren't getting shot all the time it'd be hard to believe he bleeds at all. Ludlow and Detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), a naive newbie who also wants to kill suspects without trial, comprise the force's good cops.
[Warning: Spoilers follow for those who have never seen a movie.] The bad cops are nearly everybody else in the movie-a fact so overwhelmingly obvious that when the "twist" reveals Ludlow's partners are baddies, a temptation to feign shock arises (the same temptation that arises when entering one's own surprise party that some loose-lipped friend has already spoiled). Suspension of disbelief is one thing; suspension of belief to keep the party fun is asking too much.
Forest Whitaker is Captain Jack Wander, an American police captain oddly reminiscent of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Captain Wander protects Ludlow from the pesky intrusions of Internal Affairs man Captain James Biggs (the ludicrously cast Hugh Laurie from TV's House), who's on Ludlow's ass while Ludlow and Diskant search for the killers of Ludlow's former partner.
The two female characters with lines beyond the panty variety have hearts of gold and words of syrupy cliché.
"Can't you just have a normal life, like everybody else?" whines Ludlow's love interest, whose name, Grace (Martha Higareda), and maternal pining lamely suggest redemption in female love is the antidote to male realpolitik.
Street Kings' larger moral conclusions are murkier and even vaguely contradictory. On the one hand, Street Kings seems, like Training Day, to be an overt exposé on the lawlessness of law enforcement. But one need look no further than Street Kings' writer (and famed friend of the LAPD), James Ellroy (LA Confidential), to see how an opposing message made its way through, too. This message-one we've heard from Dirty Harry, 24, Batman and the presidency of George W Bush-is that we need "Ludlows" who will operate above the law's bureaucratic red tape for the greater good-Miranda rights or Geneva Conventions be damned.
Who better to act out and symbolize, on a microcosmic scale, Bush's neoliberal doctrine than Keanu Reeves, an actor whose prominence seems an improbable and unfortunate historical accident? And who better to symbolize the dangers (abuses, resentment and revenge) of such a policy than everyone else in the film?