Street Kings **1/2 (out of ****)

Director: David Ayer
Writers: James Ellroy, Kurt Wimmer, Jamie Moss
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, Terry Crews, Naomie Harris, Common, The Game
Rating: R (strong violence and pervasive language)
Running Time: 109 min
Release Date: 4/11/08

Street Kings starts with a scenario that should give anyone who truly believes in due process of law a serious nightmare. One the other hand it might just excite fans of the old Death Wish movies. Detective Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) meets with a Korean gang to sell them a machine gun. However, they are not pleased when instead of a handy Uzi, he offers them a WWII Browning. An argument ensues and Ludlow is beaten and the gang steals his car with machine guns still in the trunk. Ludlow then tracks them down to their hangout, enters and kills them all.

He fakes evidence to make it appear than the gang shot first. When Commander Wander (Forest Whitaker), the leader of his unit, arrives with a hoard of other detectives, uniformed offices, and the media Ludlow is proclaimed a hero for rescuing two young girls from a child porn ring. There is the usual tension reflected in the apparent jealousy of the other detectives in his unit for hogging the glory. While his former African-American partner, Sgt. Washington (Terry Crews), accuses Ludlow of racism. Commander Wander, who is also African-American, intervenes telling Ludlow that he is the “tip of the spear” in his unit.

We begin to see that Ludlow isn’t just an out of control “Dirty Harry” wannabe. Wander is very much aware of Ludlow’s approach to crime fighting. The plot thickens a bit when Wander tells Ludlow that his ex-partner is been talking to Internal Affairs about him. Even though Wander tells Ludlow to stay away, he is soon stalking Washington. Is it to kill him or to just give him a beating as he later claims? This isn’t clear. But, as Ludlow fallows Washington into a convenience store, two gang bangers enter machine guns blazing. They killing Washington who ignores Ludlow’s warnings but a round from Ludlow’s backup revolver is found in Washington’s body by the coroner.

Wander helps cover up for Ludlow and assigns him to a desk job filling out public complains of police brutality of all things. A young detective (Chris Evans) is assigned to not solve the case and eventually becomes ensnared in Ludlow’s renegade law-enforcement style. Ludlow becomes strangely obsessed with getting the cop killers even through everyone tells him to leave it alone.

The search for the cop killers leads Ludlow into a maze of malfeasance far deeper than it first seemed. A major plot twist occurs when the true identities of Washington’s killers is revealed. In fact their role seems very poorly explained. And, the finale is contrived to give the Ludlow character an out. Captain Biggs (Hugh Laurie) at first comes across as a straight-laced Internal Affairs cop and emerges as an ally. However, the film holds your attention even as it loses plausibility. I would have preferred a more realistically grounded conclusion.

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