Starring: Keanu Reeves ... Detective Tom Ludlow
Forest Whitaker ... Captain Jack Wander
Common ... Coates
Martha Higareda ... Grace Garcia
Chris Evans ... Detective Paul Diskant
Noel Gugliemi ... Quicks (as Noel G.)
Kevin Benton ... Lt. Van Buren
Hugh Laurie ... Captain James Biggs
Naomie Harris ... Linda Washington
Cle Shaheed Sloan ... Fremont (as Cle Sloan)
Amaury Nolasco ... Detective Cosmo Santos
Terry Crews ... Detective Terrence Washington
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Synopsis: Keanu Reeves stars as an alcoholic cop with a penchant for skirting the rules. After years of being the go-to guy for cleaning up departmental messes under the direction of Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker), Ludlow's framed for his ex-partner's murder. The outlandish acting and plot quickly spirals out of control, leading to an ending so outlandish and nihilistic it's hard to believe any police officer in L.A. isn't a murderer, drug dealer or rapist.
Review: by Barry Hertz, Canwest News Service
Every now and then, when I'm stuck watching a truly horrible film, I like to play a game with myself -- let's call it Ham or No Ham. The rules are easy, and make much more sense than something involving briefcases and a Boston Pizza spokesman: Every time a normally well-respected actor raises their voice one octave too high, flails their arms wildly, or chews so much scenery it's a wonder they don't get heartburn, they receive a point. The actor with the most points at the end of the film is declared the winner, or the largest Ham.
There's no prize to be won -- putting aside the massive paycheques the Hams bank for these usually big-budget studio projects -- except for the fact that the actor will lose a bit of respect in this lowly critic's eyes. And with those rules in place, I'm sad to announce the winner of Ham or No Ham in director David Ayer's absurd Street Kings is Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, The Crying Game).
Whitaker's an actor who I can usually count on to deliver nuanced, compelling performances. In Street Kings, he comes off as a living, breathing panic attack, complete with ultra-intense stares, unpredictable outbursts and manic body language which suggest he was trying out Hollywood's new Redbull-and-speed diet. It's not that Whitaker didn't have some strong competitors in Ham or No Ham -- both Hugh Laurie (House) and notorious scene stealer Jay Mohr show up in this tale of police corruption. Alas, Whitaker has them all beat as the captain of an L.A. vice squad so morally suspect they make the Abu Ghraib prison guards look like the Apple Dumpling Gang.
While Whitaker's performance is embarrassing, it's not the worst part of Street Kings. Ayer, the writer behind corrupt-cop flicks Training Day and Harsh Times, has crafted cardboard-thin characters, ridiculous plot twists and over-the-top dialogue that would all feel comfortably at home on a late-night Cinemax movie, except here there's no nudity or roles for Shannon Tweed. Instead, we're stuck with Keanu Reeves (under-acting if anything, thus disqualifying him from Ham or No Ham) as Detective Tom Ludlow, an alcoholic cop with a penchant for skirting the rules. You know Ludlow's type: picture a combination of The Shield's Vic Mackey, Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry and Denzel Washington's Training Day villain.
After years of being the go-to guy for cleaning up departmental messes under the direction of Captain Jack Wander (Whitaker), Ludlow's framed for his ex-partner's murder. While he tries to solve the case, he has to fight off the attention of an internal affairs chief (Laurie), a rookie detective (Chris Evans) and his fellow vice officers (led by Mohr).
The plot quickly spirals out of control, leading to an ending so outlandish and nihilistic it's hard to believe any police officer in L.A. isn't a murderer, drug dealer or rapist. The most surprising thing about the script is seeing the great novelist James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) credited, but since there are two other writers, I'm hopeful Ellroy's solid narrative sense was watered down through various drafts.
When the end credits rolled, and my Ham or No Ham scores were finalized, I wondered if Whitaker may have been playing a joke on the audience, trying to see if we would view the picture as a commentary on how actors have to subsidize award-winning roles with awful pay-day jobs. Then I remembered the grandiose, spastic monologue he gives during the climax, and realized no one could have delivered a performance like that on purpose.
*Review © CanWest News Service 2008
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