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Street Kings

(2008) ** R
109 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director: David Ayer. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Jay Mohr.

In Street Kings, Keanu Reeves' cop Tom Ludlow insults a Korean perp by telling him, "You've got eyes like apostrophes." Yep, there's no mistaking the nutty patois of crime novelist James Ellroy. Ellroy's original story—with his screenplay rewritten by Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss—involves an internal affairs investigation targeting Ludlow. It's familiar territory for director David Ayer, who wrote and directed Training Day: another odyssey of corruption and belated justice, seen through the eyes of world-weary flatfeet and the hero's naïve rookie partner (this time, Chris Evans' Det. Paul Diskant).

A lone wolf in the LAPD's Special Vice Unit, Ludlow's a dark soul who lets his personal sense of justice justify his means to the end of wiping up L.A. scum. He carries the scars of his wife's death under unresolved circumstances, a useful backstory to help us sympathize with a corrupt cop not above drinking on the job (not to mention while driving), beatings with the Yellow Pages, and the cold-blooded murder of street thugs. The moral gray area comes from Ludlow's tantalizing efficiency. Concerned at Ludlow's talk of dropping out, his handler calls him "the tip of the fucking spear. Who's going to hold back the animals?"

The tortured Ludlow finds himself out in the cold when he's framed for a cop killing, leaving him to wonder whom, if anyone, he can trust: his longtime protector Captain Jack Wander (Forest Whitaker)? His new partner Diskant? Internal Affairs Captain James Biggs (Hugh Laurie)? Ludlow's investigation leads him into perp chases and gunfights until he eventually arrives at a climactic, hammy Lincoln-Douglas-style debate between the opposing values of self-interest and the greater good.

The unshakeable feeling that we've seen this picture before or something very much like it (Training Day and Dark Blue leap immediately to mind, as well as the Ellroy catalogue) loosens the film's grip, and truth be told, Ayer seems a lot more interested in squibs, blood spatter, and atmospheric photography than sharpening up the plot. Perhaps Reeves is the best choice to deadpan the more old-hat lines, like "What happened to just locking up bad people?" and "You hate me but you need me"—he comes off better than an overripe Whitaker and a misused Laurie. Street Kings is competent but fatally lacking in the element of surprise.

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Aspect ratios: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/19/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox's Blu-Ray special edition of Street Kings (complete with digital copy) pulls out all the stops in making a case for the film's research and craft. It helps that the film looks and sounds impeccable: no distracting digital artifacts--just a rock-solid picture and powerful rat-a-tat sound. A screen-specific commentary by David Ayer finds the director never at a loss for words as he explains the appeal of the material to him, the casting, the locations, the filmmaking approach and photography, and tidbits about LA and the LAPD.

Under Surveillance: Inside the World of Street Kings is a Blu-Ray-exclusive picture-in-picture option allowing relevant interviews to pop up during playback. Fox chooses wisely to make all of these segments available from the Special Features menu, as well—I wish all the studios would follow suit with their PiP tracks. Interviews with Ayer, DJ Muggs of Soul Assassins/Cypress Hill, LAPD Historical Society executive director Glynn Martin, author Barbara Raymond, technical advisor Jaime FitzSimons, Cle "Bone" Sloan, allow the track to focus on three major areas: the filmmaking, the shared world of L.A. and the LAPD, and the film's music.

One can "Play All" (36:48) or select any one: "The Music of Street Kings," "Detective Dress Code," "Training Keanu Reeves," "The Media and the Police," "The Mystique of the LAPD," "Researching Street Kings," "Internal Affairs," "Scoring Street Kings," "The History of Gangs in LA," "LAPD Helicopters," "Casting Forest Whitaker," "Disciplinary Action for Police Officers," "The History of the LAPD's Uniforms," "The History of Internal Affairs," "The Evolution of Crime," "The Arrest Procedure," "Early Warning System," "The History of Corruption in the LAPD," "Gang Life in LA," "The Continuum of Force," "Street Life in LA," "LAPD's First Female Officer," "Styles of Hip Hop," "Casting Cedric 'The Entertainer' Kyles," "Chris Evans' Gun Training," "The Gray Area," "The History of LA SWAT," "LAPD vs. Gang Organization," "Common and his Character," "The Coates & Fremont Shootout Scene," "The Coates & Fremont Shootout Scene Part 2," "The Future of Hip Hop," "Police Ethics," "Becoming a Police Officer," The Essence of Street Kings," and "Lightning Strikes in LA."

"Street Rules: Rolling with David Ayer and Jaime FitzSimons" (17:28) finds FitzSimons riding along with Ayer as they tour LA neighborhoods and LAPD hotspots while discussing the city and its police department. "L.A. Bête Noir: Writing Street Kings" (4:49) sounds like a feature that would include Ellroy, but alas, he ain't particpating. Instead, Ayer, Foster, Moss, Wimmer, and Stoff discuss the script.

"Street Cred" (3:51) quickly surveys Common, Cedric the Entertainer, Sloan, Ayer about the film's supposed gritty authenticity. "HBO First Look—City of Fallen Angels: Making Street Kings" (12:01) is a standard EPK-style making-of with Forest Whitaker, Keanu Reeves, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie Ayer, FitzSimons, LAPD technical advisor Brian Davis, Common, and Daryl F. Gates adding their thoughts.

Ayer offers optional commentary on 15 Deleted Scenes (12:20 with "Play All" option), while ten Alternate Takes (29:05) speak for themselves. The Vignettes (7:51 with "Play All" option) section houses four behind-the-scenes featurettes with B-roll and interviews: "Crash Course," "Heirs to the Throne," "Inside Vice Special Unit," and "Training Days." Talking heads include stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell, Ayer, Common, Cedric, Sloan, Whitaker, Reeves, Jay Mohr, Amaury Nolasco, and FitzSimons.

A Behind-the-Scenes section (3:59 with "Play All") includes four more self-explanatory clips, "In Training," "Car Rig," "Squibs," and "On Set." You also get "Theatrical Trailer A" (1:20) and "Theatrical Trailer B" (1:45), as well as Blu-Ray previews for Behind Enemy Lines 3, Stargate: Continuum, and What Happens in Vegas.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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