Whenever I know there's a Keanu Reeves movie coming, I can count on it being spectacularly, hysterically, almost hilariously bad. And "Street Kings" certainly does not disappoint.
"Kings" is another bruising, bloody trip through L.A. copland from writer-director David Ayer, who wrote "Training Day." It's also a turgid, unmanageable mess that almost has to be seen to be believed, especially considering that famed crime novelist James Ellroy ("L.A. Confidential") came up with the story.
Reeves, playing the sort of role Charlie Sheen would've reveled in if he hadn't become the current king of sitcoms, talks trash, boozes it up and unloads on baddies -- by any means necessary -- as veteran LAPD cop Tom Ludlow. The most shining member of a shady vice squad led by Forest Whitaker's hopelessly crooked commanding officer, he begins to question his motives when his former partner and possible IAB informant ("Everybody Hates Chris" dad Terry Crews) gets suspiciously mowed down by gangbangers at a convenience store.
"Kings" feels more like the sequel to "Training" if Ethan Hawke played ball, became Denzel Washington's lieutenant and Washington rose through the ranks of the department instead of (SPOILER ALERT!) getting wiped out by those pesky Russians. Ayer can't get enough of letting us know how much L.A. is filled with mean streets and even meaner cops, cops who do what they have to do to get the job done. We know this because every five minutes, somebody gives a lengthy monologue of what they have to do to get the job done.
As you can probably guess, with material like this, it gives Reeves and Whitaker plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery off the walls, often leaving scenes with paneling stuck between their teeth. But they're not the only ones. Hugh Laurie shows up with a bald spot with an ax to grind as a dirty cop-alleviating captain. Reeves spends most of the movie in a pretty-boy-with-limited-range faceoff with Chris Evans' investigating detective. And what West Coast, inner-city crime drama isn't complete without cameos from rappers? In this case, we have The Game as a snitch and Common (who should so know better) as a spooky kingpin.
For all its so-called brooding, bullet-riddled intensity, "Kings" is some flat, sour pulp, not to mention very repetitive. I mean, didn't Kurt Russell go through this corrupt cop-looking-for-redemption bit (a lot more convincingly, I might add) in "Dark Blue" a few years back? Considering that both Ellroy and Ayer collaboed on the story for that movie as well, "Kings" is an urban Western that runs out of ammo almost immediately.