More than once during writer/director David Ayer's Street Kings, I was reminded of Chris Rock's infamous Oscar rant from a few years back: "If you can't get a star, wait. You want Tom Cruise and all you get is Jude Law ... wait, it's not the same thing." If you wanna watch Training Day, but all the video store has is copies of Street Kings, wait. There are plenty of superficial similarities, but it's definitely not the same thing.
Aside from having Ayer in common (he penned Training Day; this film follows his 2005 directorial debut Harsh Times, which just saw the light of day earlier this year), both films are set in gritty, morally murky Los Angeles, infested with gang violence and shady cops that see the world in ever-darker shades of gray, along with protagonists ostensibly on the wrong side of the law but struggling to do right. What's most surprising about Street Kings's lack of oomph is the fact that James Ellroy -- James Ellroy! -- managed to pen a screenplay that should crackle but doesn't come alive until the final third. (Although, to be fair to Ellroy, that may have to do with the other two scribes, Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss, who came along behind him.) This unwieldy fusion of procedural and grim thriller just fails to achieve lift-off.
Keanu Reeves stars as Detective Tom Ludlow, who could charitably be called corrupt. A more accurate description would be "alcoholic outlaw," a man fried by his job and his utter lack of a moral code. Dogged by Internal Affairs' Captain James Biggs (gleefully personified by a game Hugh Laurie) and backed by his take-no-prisoners boss, Captain Jack Wander (Oscar winner Forest Whitaker), Tom finds himself with the blood of his ex-partner, Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) on his hands after a gruesome, gang-initiated killing. Racing to find who murdered his ex-partner -- a cop who was turning on his fellow officers -- Tom must take Detective Paul Diskant (Chris Evans) under his befouled wing and try to bring some right back to a world that seems only to know wrong.
There are twists aplenty, none particularly striking, but where Street Kings does excel is in depicting the small turf wars that erupt between departments -- much of the dialogue in these heated exchanges is laughable, but the palpable tensions alleviates some of the silliness. The screenplay seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill until very late in the game, when all is revealed and the stakes are dramatically raised. Of course, by then, viewers may have already completely checked out of the film.
It's an odd cast, to be sure: Reeves does what he can, but barely brings any grit to this obviously grungy character. Whitaker and Laurie chew scenery like pros, while Chris Evans just looks like the poor man's Ethan Hawke he's meant to be. Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, the Game, Common, Naomie Harris and John Corbett all fill in supporting roles to various degrees of success, but few make a mark. Street Kings isn't identical to Training Day, but fans of that film will have a hard time shaking the feelings of deja vu throughout.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer cannot be accurately judged owing to 20th Century Fox's supplying a screener disc rather than final product. Plenty of smearing, pixelation and motion blur are evident throughout the entire film, as well as a Fox watermark obscuring portions of the image. Should final product be provided to DVD Talk, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the image.
As with the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track sounds pretty solid, conveying dialogue and score with no discernible problem, but an accurate assessment cannot be made, owing to the fact that Fox supplied a screener, rather than final product. Optional Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks are included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles. Should Fox provide a retail version of Street Kings for consideration, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the soundtrack.
However weak the final film may be, you can't accuse Ayer of skimping on supplements -- it verges on overkill. Ayer sits for a relaxed yet passionate commentary track, taking listeners through the project's formation and dissecting some of its themes. Fifteen deleted scenes (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) are included, playable separately or all together for an aggregate of 11 minutes, 34 seconds; optional Ayer commentary is included. Ten alternate takes (presented in anamorphic widescreen) are included, playable separately. The 17 minute, 28 second featurette "Street Rules: Rolling with David Ayer & Jaime FitzSimons" (presented in fullscreen) takes viewers through the real-life streets and alleys of South Central Los Angeles, while the four minute, 49 second featurette "L.A. Bete Noir: Writing 'Street Kings'" (presented in fullscreen) explores James Ellroy's script process. The three minute, 51 second featurette "Street Cred" (presented in fullscreen) focuses on a handful of secondary characters, again underlining how dangerous L.A. can be and a series of four "vignettes" (all presented in fullscreen) -- "Crash Course" (one minute, 28 seconds); "Heirs to the Throne" (two minutes, 15 seconds); "Inside Vice Special Unit" (one minute, 42 seconds) and "Training Days" (two minutes, 26 seconds) -- examine everything from stunts to casting to the hands-on preparations the actors underwent. Another quartet of "behind-the-scenes" featurettes (presented in fullscreen and playable separately) -- "In Training" (one minute, five seconds); "Car Rig" (one minute, 14 seconds); "Squibs" (48 seconds) and "On Set" (47 seconds) -- quite literally explores much of the same territory as the vignettes. The film's theatrical trailer (presented in anamorphic widescreen) and an one minute, 25 second "Inside Look" at Alexandre Aja's forthcoming Mirrors (presented in non-anamorphic widescreen) completes the disc.
More than once during writer/director David Ayer's Street Kings, I was reminded of Chris Rock's infamous Oscar rant from a few years back: "If you can't get a star, wait. You want Tom Cruise and all you get is Jude Law ... wait, it's not the same thing." If you wanna watch Training Day, but all the video store has is copies of Street Kings, wait. There are plenty of superficial similarities, but it's definitely not the same thing. There are, however, a raft of supplements to sift through for the curious. Rent it.