“Street Kings,” the latest from David Ayer (“Harsh Times”), falls into a trap familiar to action films. These films typically start off with a bang, something that really hooks viewers, but get confused and try to become serious dramas, shoving in a ridiculous plot and trying to establish deep, emotional characters. And as they drag on, they build up to a terrible final fight scene that no one cares about. Sadly, that’s a great summary of “Kings.”
Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is an LAPD officer still trying to hold onto the values he had when he first enlisted as a cop. But no matter how hard he tries, there are always more criminals filling the streets. And when a former partner is gunned down in front of him, he vows to find those responsible and bring them to justice. But as he begins to investigate the murder, he starts to uncover a conspiracy of dirty cops who now have him in their sights.
The best part of “Kings” is its first act. Although the acting is poor, even for seasoned veterans like Forest Whitaker, who plays Captain Jack Wander, it’s more than made up for in its dark, gritty atmosphere, complete with a very non-PC sense of humor. And though it may not be Shakespeare, the dialogue is fast and clever. There’s just enough action to keep things interesting, which helps with pacing.
Ayer does an admirable job setting up the characters, but he uses techniques we’ve all seen before. Ludlow is an alcoholic who’s willing to do the dirty work if it means some good will come out of it. It’s a common stereotype, but Ayer also puts Ludlow at the center of a debate on morals and ethics in the justice system. These deep themes feel a bit out of place, but nonetheless I was happy to see Ayer attempt to tackle such tough topics, even if it doesn’t lead to any intelligent thought or discussion.
If the film would have kept up with the entertainment factor of the first act, this may have been the best film of the year so far. But once the second act kicks in, which mainly consists of plot development, everything begins to fall apart. The story is boring and drags on. Worst of all, the structure of the narrative makes it unnecessarily hard to follow. It’s a simple plot, but Ayer clearly needs to learn how to tell a story.
For a film like “Kings,” you should never have to put any effort into understanding what is going on and if you do then something is definitely wrong.
Simply put, Ayer dropped the ball with this part of the film. The newly introduced characters are underdeveloped. Action takes a backseat to melodrama and for a moment it seems as if Ayer actually thinks the audience cares about Ludlow or everyone else running around with confused looks on their faces. And all of the humor and wit found in the beginning is gone, forcing viewers to focus on the terrible plot.
But “Kings” always feels as if it’s building up to something epic. And when the third act comes, we learn that its been building up to nothing. Perhaps one of the biggest sins an action film can commit is ending anti-climactically. The final gunfight pales in comparison to those found earlier, and the ending is bland. The lack of quality is amplified by the very predictable plot twists. They’re not only forced, but can be spotted from a mile away.
“Street Kings” may just be the epitome of a rental. There is no reason why anyone should waste their money seeing this in theaters. Definitely wait for this one to hit the dollar section at Blockbuster.