“I woke up, and I was a cliché.”
The fact that this isn’t the first line of dialogue in Street Kings, a new cop-thriller with Keanu Reeves, should be considered a missed opportunity. Opening with Reeves getting out of bed to a blaring alarm, fully clothed, hearing a neighborhood dog barking, loading his gun, stumbling over to the bathroom and throwing up this morning’s hangover — it’s amazing that the alcoholic undercover cop alarm didn’t go off in screenwriter James Ellroy’s mind. Ellroy is considered the king of LA crime stories (he wrote the novels LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia, among others).
Despite Reeves’ 43-year-old paunch, when dressed in uniform for his ex-partner’s funeral, Reeves’ character still looks like a little boy in blue, trying on Daddy’s oversized hat. During the past 20 years, Reeves hasn’t developed as an actor at all, and here, where he is supposed to show his dark side as a dirty cop slowly turning toward the light, he makes absolutely no impression at either side of the spectrum, making his about-face totally unconvincing.
Left to the supporting characters, this film wallows in brutal violence as a way to keep the audience awake, during slow and obvious twists and turns. (Unsurprising considering that director David Ayer, who wrote and produced Training Day and directed Harsh Times, seems to have the market on repetitive, unoriginal films about unseemly LA cops).
What the movie boils down to is a bunch of character actors scowling at each other, with Hugh Laurie (the camera has a strange focus on his bald spot), Jay Mohr (sporting the world’s porniest mustache), and Forest Whitaker getting most of the screentime. Whitaker, generally a great actor, coming off a fairly similar role on The Shield (there’s even a reference to “The Barn”), gives his worst performance to date, sweating, snarling, bug-eyed, slobbery and way over-the-top without being intentionally funny, not helped by a lot of hammy dialogue (“It’s time to turn the page and close the book”), and a truly embarrassing final scene that takes the movie from lousy to full-on camp.
In a movie where apparently Asians of all origin know Kung-Fu, and cops handcuff and/or tie up suspects in front, as opposed to behind their backs (allowing for easy distraction and eventual escape) the most distracting element is clearly the bewildering number of scenes that Reeves shares with similar non-entity actor Chris Evans. Evans portrays a cop investigating, but later joining up with, Reeves — and both ought to win some sort of MTV Movie award for least convincing duo.