This underwhelming police drama is definitely watchable, but overly familiar, considering it comes from a story by James Ellroy.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, and Chris Evans, among a decent, mainly male cast, Street Kings owes much to Training Day, whose writer, David Ayer (Harsh Times) helms a harsh, diffuse, rather violent tale about corruption in L.A.
Reeves, who was much better as a desperate cop in Speed, here occupies nearly every frame as widower, jaded Tom Ludlow. He gets through his daily grind with vodka nips as he performs unsavory duties for his boss, Whitaker's Capt. Jack Wander. Wander has always had the back of Ludlow's way of taking "no prisoners".
The script, collaborated on by Ellroy, has Ludlow in trouble when his former partner (Terry Crews of White Chicks), an internal affairs informant, is executed in a convenience store by gangsters. Ludlow's the chief suspect in the case and has to do what's necessary to exonerate himself; the handling of DNA will help tweak the proceedings.
Tom needs Evans's newbie homicide detective Paul Diskant who's on the case to look into the evidence against him. But Ludlow's "phone book" moniker comes clear as the film tries to justify the title when he brings Diskant with him to coerce suspects into disclosing what he needs to know.
Ayer makes some of the scenes pulsate with lurid action, but the pacing and editing is rather scattershot. And, the line readings often are heard to a silly, risible effect, perhaps to underscore the gap between good and bad. Finally, when Ludlow is on the cusp of the truth, he's told to "turn the page and close the book" by his boss. And, Hugh Laurie (the free-spirited doctor on TV's "House") is an unctuous internal affairs head named Biggs who tells Tom that "you can't ride the tiger forever".
While Reeves seems to have recycled his Constantine character to perhaps empathize more with female viewers, he doesn't quite seem to be up to speed with this bulky part. The colorful supporting cast, including a fake moustached Jay Mohr, rappers The Game and Common, as well Cedric "The Entertainer" Kyles as drug-dealing Scribble and Martha Higareda as Tom's Latino, long-suffering sweetie, do there best behind this boyish guy.
Too bad Street Kings hams up something that could have been more deeply felt or poignant like Serpico from yesteryear, or Dark Blue starring Kurt Russell also from an Ellroy story.