Street Kings – A Review

Samuel Johnson once said that: “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.” That was the 18th century view. In 2008, every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a cop. Maybe it’s the word “cop” that does it. “Cop”, from the Latin capere, meaning to “to capture”. Ah, the hell with etymology. “Cop” sounds cool. It sounds like a profession for drunks and brawlers, and all the other guys men want to be. Men want to be cops the way women want to be Kate Moss; because cops/Moss don’t take shit from anyone. When Keanu Reeves dons a badge in Street Kings, he isn’t a real cop anymore than I am; he’s a fashion spread.

There’s only one cop who isn’t crooked, drunk or violent in Street Kings, and he gets whacked shortly after the opening credits. His name is Washington. He’s the virtuous one. Santos is the Hispanic. Biggs is the guy from Internal Affairs and Subtlety doesn’t work in this precinct. Our hero is Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves). He’s a cop in the sort of anti-gang unit that gives you sympathy for gang members. Tom drinks like he’s trying to scare people. He and Washington used to be partners (dammit!), but Washington now works with Internal Affairs. When Washington is gunned down during a convenience store robbery, Tom sets out to find his ex-partner’s killers.

The ability to take a punch is crucial to being a movie cop. Throwing punches is easy. Time it right and anybody can land a good punch. But taking punches takes stoicism. Just look at Keanu Reeves in this movie. Observe the beating he takes at the start. Is it plausible anyone could just get up and walk away from that beating? Of course not. Is it believable Reeves could drink the way he does and not piss himself? No. But Reeves is a movie cop in Street Kings. He’s playing a role which many feel reached in zenith with Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout. The idea Tom Ludlow would fill out a report or, I dunno, show up sober for work is laughable. He beats suspects almost as a hello to them. Why? Because movie cops who play by the rules are an oxymoron.

I wouldn’t change movies like this for the most part, but one scene I would like to re-write is the obligatory spousal dispute. You know the scene (Street Kings has one): the cop’s wife complains about what his job is doing to them. She wants a “normal life” like “regular people”. She cries. He holds her. Am I the only one who’s sick of this? How about a new scene where the cop cries and the wife tells him: “Suck it up. You chose this.” How about the wife knows what being a cop’s wife is like, and she shuns the naivety that breeds complaint? This will never happen because males 18-30 like to tell themselves they’re bulletproof. But damn, I’d love to see what would happen if you wrote a woman (instead of a “girlfriend”) into a cop movie.

As for the rest… Hugh Laurie plays House. Forrest Whitaker shouts. Chris Evans goes the way of all rookie cops who “just got engaged last week”. A lot of rappers busy themselves setting the African-American community back thirty years. Director David Ayer rehashes his Training Day script, again.

What Street Kings has to say about policing is what all movies have to say: get ’em! A while back I reviewed Jodie Foster in The Brave One, and I talked about vengeance, and the id, and why bad guys have to die. There’s a good exchange in Street Kings, where Reeves says to Whitaker: “What happened to just locking up bad people?” And Whitaker says: “We’re all bad”. That’s cop movies in a nutshell. Because we don’t come to see bad people arrested, or tried, or sentenced. We want bad things to happen to them. Could we live with what Reeves does in this movie in real life? Of course not. We want to be cops. We don’t long for the real world.

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