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Street Kings (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/19/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/14/2008

The morality of law enforcement officers can be a very interesting subject for a movie. Think about it; criminals don't play by any rules and some most likely feel that they can do anything that they want. On the flipside, the police have a strict set of guidelines that they must follow. If they don't, not only could the criminal get away, but the officer could be disciplined. A well-made film could explore this dichotomy and examine how the police are able to go to the edge in order to keep the peace. Street Kings wants to be this movie, but it becomes so bogged down in story that it's criminal.

Keanu Reeves stars in Street Kings as vice squad Detective Tom Ludlow. He is a loyal cop who does his job well, but he often uses excessive force and questionable methods to get the job done. And yet, there's no question that he does get the job done. He is protected by his superior Captain Jack Wander (Forrest Whitaker), and is loyal to his fellow vice squad officers, Clady (Jay Mohr), Demille (John Corbettt), and Santos (Amaury Nolasco). Tom begins to get nervous when he learns that his former partner, Detective Washington (Terry Crews) has been speaking with Internal Affairs. Tom begins to follow Washington and is on the scene when the man is gunned down by two masked men. Knowing that everyone is aware of his feelings about Washington and fearing that he'll be implicated in the shooting, Tom becomes determined to learn who killed Washington and why. He enlists the help of Detective Diskant (Chris Evans) to learn the truth. But, as Tom gets closer to the truth, he uncovers more and more lies.

Street Kings is one of those movies which looks really good on paper. The cast alone should sell the film and the movie should have gotten publicity from the simple fact that it was Keanu Reeves' first action film in several years. One of the screenwriters on the film is James Ellroy, the author of the incomparable L.A. Confidential. Director David Ayer wrote the screenplay for Training Day. Yet, all of that pedigree can't change the fact that Street Kings is shot full of problems.

It's no coincidence that I mentioned L.A. Confidential and Training Day, as the film wants to be a combination of the two. As with L.A. Confidential, we get a lot of talk about police corruption and bitter rivalries between cops that go back for years. Tom Ludlow's character is very similar to the character played by Denezel Washington in Training Day, as he's a cop who understands that when criminals push you, you have to push back, no matter the consequences. But Street Kings can't match either of those films in terms of quality (and that's saying a lot, as I didn't like Training Day).

Street Kings simply crumbles under its own weight and Director David Ayer can't control the collapse. The film wants to be like L.A. Confidential or the films of Michael Mann, where the story simply begins and the audience must catch up. However, there is a great deal of information being exchanged in Street Kings and many viewers will get lost, or worse, lose interest very quickly. The movie has lots of little subplots which it wants to tie together, but some remained frayed and others reveal themselves to be inscrutable. It's almost as if those responsible for the movie said, "It doesn't matter if we explain it, just have an action scene every few minutes and no one will care." These action scenes, subplots, and a stable full of characters are a great way for the film to distract us from the fact that it doesn't have anything new to say. Many of the plot twists are predictable (at least the ones which make sense) and if you've seen any movie in this genre, the last 20 minutes will hold no surprises at all.

Getting back to my opening point, the true shame of Street Kings is that it could have made a great statement about police work. Tom Ludlow goes to work drunk. Is he truly an alcoholic, or is this the only way that he can face his job? What does this kind of work do to a man's soul? These kinds of questions are never fully explored, as the movie wanders towards mediocrity. Despite the great cast and talent behind the camera, in the end, Street Kings is a royal mess.

Street Kings shoots its way onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. On the Disc's commentary, Director Ayer states that he wanted to avoid the typical dark look and allow the film to have realistic colors. This comes across quite well on this transfer. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a mild amount of grain in some shots. There are no defects from the source material. The colors do look fantastic, most notably the reds and blues. The picture shows a great amount of detail and the depth in some shots create an illusion of 3-D. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an excellent track which really heightens the effect of the film. The gunshots really pack a punch, and we feel the sub thump with each one. There is an incredible amount of detail in the stereo effects, particularly with the score. Surround sound effects are abundant, most notably during action scenes and scenes on the street.

The Street Kings Blu-ray Disc offers a force of special features. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director David Ayer. Ayer speaks at length throughout the film, discussing the making of the film. He talks about the story, the actors, and the overall goal of the film. "Under Surveillance: Inside the World of Street Kings" brings the viewer a host of information about the making of the film. This can be accessed as a Picture-in-Picture feature while watching the movie, or the 36 individual segments can be viewed separately and run about 37 minutes. These pieces focus on the actors, the look of the film, and the reality of the story. The Disc contains fifteen DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes and can be viewed with optional commentary from Director David Ayer. All of these scenes are brief and only a few provide any new information. We also get ten ALTERNATE TAKES (30 minutes), which give us a different view of some key scenes. "Street Rules: Rolling with David Ayer and Jaime FitzSimons" (17 minutes) has the Director and LAPD Technical Advisor cruising through L.A., where they discuss police work and the conditions in certain neighborhoods. "L.A. Bete Noir: Writing Street Kings" (5 minutes) is more of a discussion of the story and characters than an actual discussion of how the script came about. "Street Cred" (4 minutes) examines the portrayal of the mean streets of L.A. in the film. "HBO First Look - City of Fallen Angels: Making Street Kings" (12 minutes) is a fairly standard making-of, offering clips, on-set footage, and comments from the cast and filmmakers. Four "Vignettes" (8 minutes) examine car stunts, the off-beat casting in the film, vice cops, and the reality of the film. There are also four "Behind the Scenes" (4 minutes), which look at various aspects of the film. The extras are finished off by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long