Writer-director David Ayer is no stranger to LA’s mean streets and actors often flourish in his company. Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Training Day, while Christian Bale (Harsh Times) and Kurt Russell (Dark Blue) ate up his scripts. In his latest release Keanu Reeves plays the type of cop that makes The Shield’s Vic Mackey look tame. Reeves’ LAPD veteran Tom Ludlow is a wreck, haunted by the death of his wife, who tends to business with a gun in one hand and a mini-bottle of vodka in the other. When a former colleague turned informant is murdered, fingers point and Tom is sidelined pending a cover-up. But remnants of a conscience prompt him to dig deeper and take on his own department.
Ayers’ film, based on a screenplay by James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer (Utraviolet, The Recruit) and newcomer Jamie Moss, feels muddled and formulaic. But Reeves is impressive, displaying untapped levels of intensity, pain and anguish that are possibly drawn from the tragedy in his own life (his girlfriend died in a car crash in 2001). His backup is less so, with Forest Whitaker’s corrupt police chief blatantly borrowing from Washington in both appearance (Inside Man) and charisma (Training Day). Meanwhile, Hugh Laurie’s internal affairs captain and Chris Evans’ rookie are under-used.
Ayers’ clever use of LA heightens the authenticity, his set pieces are brutal and the conclusion is mired in moral ambiguity. Yet, for all its pedigree, Street Kings is a misfiring entry into the corrupt cop genre.
General release from April 18.