Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. A personal tragedy leads a well-intentioned police officer down a path littered with corruption, inner turmoil, and increasingly questionable behavior. Working outside of the law, he dispenses his own brand of moralistic justice, struggling to find his way in a world of money, deception, and power-hungry colleagues. Nodding your head? It’s one of the most familiar storylines in Hollywood today, and one that’s been hurled on the screen time and time again for the last four decades (and then some). When I first caught the star-studded trailer for director David Ayer’s ‘Street Kings’ -- the latest incarnation of this overused plot -- I allowed myself to hope someone would finally break free of the genre’s tiresome conventions and bring something new to the table. Instead, the ‘Harsh Times’ filmmaker delivered yet another flick created from a check list of clichés and subplots that filmfans could rattle off in their sleep.
Keanu Reeves fills the cinematic shoes of the LAPD’s latest fallen angel, a loyal detective and foot soldier named Tom Ludlow. After rescuing a pair of kids from a savage group of gangsters, Tom’s captain, Jack Wander (the seemingly infallible Forest Whitaker) informs him that his ex-partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews), is revealing all of Tom’s past misdeeds to an Internal Affairs officer (Hugh Laurie). Wander tells him to keep his cool and rely on his team (Jay Mohr, Amaury Nolasco, and John Corbett) to back up his testimony when IAD comes knocking. However, when Terrance is killed by a pair of common thugs during a convenience store robbery, Tom goes on the offensive, determined to track down the thieves responsible for his former friend’s death. His off-the-books investigation leads him to a reluctant but helpful homicide detective named Paul Diskant (Chris Evans), a petty criminal with key information (Cedric the Entertainer), and, ultimately, a pair of vicious conmen with secrets of their own(Common and Cle Sloats).
Based on a late ‘90s screenplay from writer James Ellroy called “The Nightwatchmen,” ‘Street Kings’ is an average, well-acted entry in its genre. Whitaker, Evans, and, yes, even Reeves manage to craft their characters into believable, paranoid, and complex creatures of habit that keep the clichéd story on track. In fact, their intense performances single-handedly drove the plot along and made me genuinely care about each character. Interestingly enough, I wish the entire story was about Evans’ detective Diskant -- he’s the one element of the story that isn’t predictable, the one character who doesn’t follow a predestined genre course through the movie, and the only person who really captivated me. Every time the camera followed Reeves, I found myself wondering which side of the law Diskant fell on, what his motivations were, and what was really going on in his head. His arc is the most effective and the only one that I wish was fleshed out more than it was.
Unfortunately, even a quick reading of my purposefully cryptic plot synopsis will reveal most of the twists and turns in the plot. I had the entire story pegged within the first twenty minutes of the film, leaving little to the imagination other than the ways in which the minute details would work themselves out. To make matters worse, the film’s dialogue is peppered with the same eye-rolling slang that populated Ayer’s ‘Harsh Times’ -- his forced street chatter sounds distracting and unnatural, and has no business slithering into an otherwise decent script. Even more grating is the fact that several key characters become comical caricatures of familiar genre roles in the third act. The supporting actors pushed their deliveries so far over the top, that I began to wonder when Ayer’s “authentic” take on South Central LA was going to go back to feeling… I don’t know… authentic.
I must admit, I really wanted to enjoy ‘Street Kings’ far more than I did -- with its talented roster, confident director, and impressive screenplay, it could have been something special. Sadly, it’s just another regurgitation of dozens of similar movies that have come before it. There’s a decent film to be experienced here, but I would save your money and tune into the final season of ‘The Shield’ to see what more entries in the corrupt-cop subgenre should work to emulate.
Seeped in sweaty oranges one minute and washed with steely blues the next, ‘Street Kings’ noteworthy 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer handles a variety of tonal shifts with ease. The film’s palette is rich and vibrant, contrast is harsh but representative of the director’s intent, and black levels are inky and fully resolved. Detail is impressive as well -- edges are nicely defined, a slew of fine textures imbue the picture with considerable realism, and elements like skin and hair are sharp and natural. While the film’s oppressive shadows hide a lot of background detail, it’s the result of stylistic choices and shouldn’t be attributed to the technical quality of the disc. More importantly, the three-dimensional image boasts remarkable depth, light grain that doesn’t dominate or fluctuate, and a clean presentation that doesn’t suffer from artifacting, source noise, or DNR.
In the end, I don’t think the transfer is refined enough to trot out the words “reference level,” but I also didn’t encounter any technical deficiencies that might give videophiles pause. As it stands, this is another quality video presentation from Fox that will give viewers plenty of bang for their buck.
Loud, heavy, and aggressive, ‘Street Kings’ intense DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track packs the sort of punch I long for when it comes to bullet-riddled police dramas. Gunfire is precisely mapped across the soundfield, using gut-kicks from the LFE channel and transparent pans to effectively place the listener in the middle of the on-screen action. When Ludlow storms a house early in the film, the interior acoustics are convincing, the various blasts and impacts are resonant, and ambience is subtle and realistic. While dialogue tends to be a bit throaty at times, it’s still clean, crisp, and well-prioritized throughout the film, even in the midst of the most chaotic action scenes.
If I have any complaint, it’s that the score is slightly over-represented in the mix. Thankfully, the music doesn’t drown out any conversations and rarely detracts from the overall quality of the track. All in all, ‘Street Kings’ provides a first-rate sonic experience that should completely satisfy fans of the film and the genre.
The Blu-ray edition of ‘Street Kings’ not only includes all of the special features from its Special Edition DVD counterpart, it offers fans a Digital Copy of the film, a PiP look behind the scenes, and a few other exclusive (albeit minor) goodies. The problem is the fact that all of the material essentially repeats the same point over and over again: ‘Street Kings’ is apparently an authentic representation of South Central Los Angeles. True or not, the redundancy gets old fast and disrupts the flow of an otherwise informative supplemental package.
’Street Kings’ is too predictable and cliché for my tastes, but it delivers a decent tale of corruption and redemption, a collection of notable performances, and a solid screenplay. Thankfully, regardless of how you feel about the film itself, this Blu-ray edition features an excellent video transfer, a powerful DTS HD Master Audio track, and a generous collection of supplements (including a few exclusives). While I hesitate to recommend the film itself, this release offers fans and newcomers enough value for their Blu-ray dollar to make it worth your attention.