As the co-star to Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it’s rather easy to imagine Alex Winter cursing the cinematic gods for granting success to his apparent equal while Winter himself was left wallowing in the most bogus of career circumstances. Yet, Keanu Reeves has carried the reputation of a blissfully ignorant surfer-party dude for quite some time, and a lot of this reputation is justified by his emotionless turns in films such as Point Break, Speed, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and A Walk In The Clouds. Despite Reeves’ seemingly immutable persona that persisted through these and many other varied roles, he has found consistent acting work, but his reputation as a dude never fails to precede him. So, one would think that an over the top crime thriller like Street Kings would do well to avoid consistently terrible dialogue that is delivered largely by a leading man who isn’t predisposed to ridicule. However, it comes as a bittersweet jolt that, not only is Reeves passable as a hardened, morally questionable cop, but he is damn good in this role.
Keanu Reeves—acting? It would appear so.
It’s difficult to know whether Reeves has undergone some rigorous training, miraculously gained the ability to emote, or whether he is just remarkably fitted for James Ellroy’s detached method of narrative. Perhaps all three of these factors play into Reeves’ portrayal of antihero Detective Tom Ludlow, and although Keanu shows up to Street Kings with a lot of baggage, so does his character. And, as it turns out, Reeves’ virtually trademarked blank slate acts as surrogate for the audience’s reactions to the film. Det. Ludlow has seemingly turned self-desructive since his wife died three years prior. As a total fucking mess, Ludlow sleeps fully dressed and with his gun always within reach. At the start of the film, Ludlow hits the alarm button amidst the late-afternoon smog of L.A., stumbles into the bathroom, and gives his reflection a lingering look of disgust. Then, he pukes up last night’s vodka, brushes his teeth, and cleans his gun. To an ominous thumping score, Ludlow drives to work while swigging vodka and stopping at the liquor store for more pocket-sized bottles. Obviously, to hell with procedure, for Ludlow no longer has faith in the hallmark institutions of society, and he knows that the system, which protects criminals’ rights before victims’ lives, has gone to hell. So, as a one-man commando, he kills first and worries about the evidence later. Yet, unlike his fellow LAPD officers, Ludlow’s ends always justify his questionable means, which include taking out a group of Korean gangsters and arranging the scene to look as if the gangsters shot each other. A few moments later, we find out the truth of Ludlow’s plan when he uncovers a cage containing two underaged kidnapping victims. He assures the two frightened girls, “Don’t worry. I’m a cop,” but even he doesn’t believe the truth of the statement.
Presiding over much of the LAPD is Captain Jack Wander (adequately played by Forest Whitaker), who willingly covers his ace detective’s tracks because Ludlow is willing to take on the operations that the other (mostly corrupt) officers of the LAPD won’t do. Besides, the rescue and recovery of kidnapping victims is great for public relations. So, Captain Wander keeps Ludlow under his wing that has ample room to protect other officers played by Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Amaury Nolasco. Naturally, Ludlow doesn’t even trust these guys but has no choice, since his former partner, Washington (Terry Crews), has been getting chatty with LAPD internal affairs Captain James Biggs (the overtly snarky Hugh Laurie). When some thugs take Washington out, Captain Wander assures Ludlow that his presence on the scene won’t reflect badly against him, but this comes at the expense of a surveillance tape. With the help of rookie detective Paul Diskrant (Chris Evans), Ludlow sets out to uncover the identities of the thugs and, naturally, uncovers much more in the process.
Street Kings is based on the original story by James Ellroy, who co-wrote the screenplay as well. Of course, “original” is a relative term, and much of what arrives in this film is nothing new to today’s jaded audiences. The film’s theme also carries a well-worn motif of absolute power absolutely corrupting the holders of that power. However, Street Kings marks Ellroy’s return towards the gritty realism of the film adaptations of Dark Blue and L.A. Confidential, and this shall please Ellroy fans who were turned off by the glittery sheen of The Black Dahlia. Admittedly, Street Kings is, at times, pretty damn preposterous and too ambitious for its own good, but it is a film that is patently and consistently entertaining. Director David Ayer provides plenty of bloodshed in gunfight scenes that were undoubtedly inspired by John Woo (in particular, Hard Boiled comes to mind). The script borders on awfulness and veers unsteadily between clichéd dialogue and heavy doses of police procedure, with “exigent circumstances” and “first on the scene” getting far too much playtime. Yet, if you’re familiar with Ellroy’s method of storytelling and don’t mind the tone of a slightly overdone crime thriller, it would be a few hours well spent to take in Keanu Reeves’ surprisingly capable, non-heinous performance.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and still wonders about Alex Winter. She can be found at agentbedhead.com.Be Excellent to Each Other.
Film | April 12, 2008 | Comments ()