I'm not sure STREET KINGS will be a big popular hit. The public likes people to root for: heroes and villains, not a whole cast of morally compromised individuals. But if you're like me and groove on contemporary South Central crime dramas where the cops are bad and the crooks often even worse, this is the one. I should note that I'm already a fan of David Ayer, screenwriter of TRAINING DAY and director of HARSH TIMES (the only flaw in that one was that its ending was so inevitable). I also like Keanu Reeves when he's used in the right way (hint: don't ask him to do Shakespeare). Here he is, and he even goes light on the makeup to make his skin look kinda scarred and blotchy.
Reeves plays alkie Tom Ludlow, whose booze of choice is airplane-size bottles of vodka, ostensibly because they can't be smelled on the breath, is a star officer in the precinct of Captain Wander (Forest Whitaker, doing his best Denzel impersonation). But internal affairs are on his case, and his ex-partner Terrence (Terry Crewes) might be about to turn rat. But before Ludlow can have it out with his former pal, the latter is killed by apparent gangbangers. As Ludlow tries to catch the perps, he starts to realize that maybe it wasn't an accident or coincidence (ya think?)
The brilliance of Ayer's work here is that he knows we action-junkies will accept a degree of vigilante justice onscreen, even if, like me, we're bleeding hearts in reality. So when things kick off with Keanu busting in on a crime ring, shooting the bad guys in cold blood, and fudging the evidence, it's kind of okay, because it's made very clear that these guys were torturing and raping underage girls whom they locked in a hidden cage. So you watch this and go, “Well maybe sometimes it is okay to have a little police brutality. Necessary evil and all that.”
You go along with that. But then Ayer keeps upping the ante, to the point where finally you go, “Okay, NOW this shit they're doing is definitely unacceptable.” But you missed the point where a line was specifically crossed — Ayer has gotten you so used to different hues of gray that it wasn't clear when they turned black.
On a minor note, I like that Cedric the Entertainer is billed here with “the Entertainer” in quotes, which is how I've always imagined it anyway. Though I will say he's decent in small dramatic roles, and I hope he keeps at those and away from broad “comedies.”