From the director of Training Day comes Street Kings, a film you may recall that was released in April of this year. While it was promoted heavily on television, the film quickly disappeared from theaters, but not before reclaiming its modest budget in tickets sales domestically and making double back on top of that with combined domestic and worldwide sales. While not a blockbuster, the film was a relative success for Fox Searchlight, the distributor of the film, who released the film in nearly 2,500 theaters at its point of widest release. With actors Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Common and The Game filling the film up with household name talent, Street Kings promised to be more than it eventually showed what it was capable of.
When police detective Tom Ludlow (Reeves) becomes mixed up in a plot to kill his former partner who he himself has a vendetta against, Ludlow is forced to duck out of the spotlight of his high-profile job and take a desk job handling complaints for the LAPD. Not content with sitting where he’s at, Ludlow begins to investigate his former partners murder and soon finds a whole web of the LAPD that’s corrupt. With his own former partners turning on him, Ludlow follows the trail to find out just who is in charge of the attacks on his fellow officers.
From the trailers for the film it looks like a much more action packed film than it ultimately ended up being, but Street Kings is still a solid drama film that follows the same train of thought as Training Day. In fact, if anything, the real drawback of Street Kings is that is almost too similar to Training Day, but the film still manages to stand on its own when compared side by side with the directors earlier project. Similarities aside, Street Kings manages to be engaging from the start and its one of few films I’ve watched (lately anyway) that can mix in the drama with the action and still maintain a level of believability and flow about it all.
The biggest draw of the film is the films robust cast. I’m already somewhat of a fan of Reeve’s other works, so I was interested in seeing the film for him alone. When I saw Forest Whitaker was involved as well, that just about clinched it and by the time Hugh Laurie showed up in the trailer, I knew I wanted to see the film. Regardless if it turned out to be some boring cop film, Street Kings had some mighty fine talent behind it to at least make it interesting when they were all on screen. Thankfully, Reeves, Laurie and Whitaker all had screen time together (and even at one point, all three were in the same room) and based on their performances alone the film is worth checking out.
I didn’t fully know what to expect from Reeve’s on this one. His acting style ranges so wildly between films (and at times, doesn’t range at all), so it’s hard to figure out what to expect from him at times. Street Kings brought back the more serious and dramatic Reeves that reminds me of his role as a cop in Point Break (except with…yanno, less ham). Although I can kind of retract that comment in one instance, as right before the big showoff in the film, Reeves converses with Chris Evans character and spouts out the line “This thing you want that you think you want, you don’t want”, to which Evans replies “You don’t know what I want.” And I don’t know what the hell you guys are talking about, but whatever. There’s nothing wrong with their performance so much as the dialogue—what on earth was that whole sequence about? Evans character never really showed any great desire to tackle this case in the same way as Ludlow did, so I’m not entirely sure what Ludlow was getting at. I had to pause the film shortly after this line was said and when starting it back up (damn the lack of auto-resume on Blu-ray) I headed straight for this chapter and I was given the chance to witness this line a second time. The first time I didn’t really do much else than blink, but the second time I actually laughed out loud.
The rest of the film manages to be an entertaining affair, with plenty of gun violence and excessive use of the F-word (on a side note, I haven’t seen Forest Whitaker in a role before where he uses the word quite so much…that man is quite scary), although those looking for the level of nudity that Training Day had will be sorely disappointed as there is literally no nudity to be had in the film at all. Fine by me, it always seems to cheapen the mood when there’s nudity being thrown about on-screen, and it made the film feel like a more serious venture (aside from the aforementioned piece of dialogue) for the most part.
I had hoped this film would be something with more cops acting like pure bad asses, but what we got in the beginning with Ludlow and the Koreans will no doubt amuse those looking for a similar show of excessive police force, so there’s a little something for those who were wanting straight-up-action as well. On the acting side of things, its rock solid and Whitaker and Laurie steal every scene they’re in. I had visions of Laurie channeling his character on House, M.D. for awhile, his mannerisms and ego were of the same caliber until he started shouting F-bombs as well, then that image went down the toilet.
In any case, Street Kings isn’t award worthy or particularly note worthy either, but it is an entertaining film. I don’t know how far I’d go out to recommend it for the story, but the actors are what really make the film worth seeing. That’s not really a positive testament to its writing, but if you’re a fan of Reeves, Whitaker, Laurie or Evans (the remaining billed cast, Common and The Game, appear so briefly in the film their performances are hardly worth noting), or any combination of the four, then the film comes Recommended. Otherwise you may just want to give it a Rental.
Fox has seen fit to grace us with a two-disc Blu-ray edition of Street Kings, but don’t get too excited yet. The second disc is once again a digital copy and none of the extras on the set are in HD (aside from the trailers), so the 50gb Dual Layer disc seems oddly wasted on the film itself. The packaging itself is nothing special, a standard Blu-ray case with inserts for other Fox titles, a message about keeping the Blu-ray player up-to-date and an insert with the Digital Copy’s serial number.
The video for the release is an AVC encoded 2.40:1 transfer (on a side note, it’s very nice of Fox to provide these details on the box, so I don’t have to re-check it all down the line if I forget to check it while watching the film) that is quite enjoyable to watch. At first I noticed a bit of smearing when it comes to the actors faces, but it seemed to vary from scene to scene (that or Keanu Reeves just doesn’t have any facial detail). Scenes are well lit and look fantastic, while every one of the other actors in the films get full high-definition detail when their close-ups are on screen. Reeve’s usually waxy face even begins to show some depth in the latter half of the film and there’s even some film grain tossed in there as well, which is something I’ve noticed is something that is often washed away by overzealous DNR. At least there’s none of that here.
The audio is a strong DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio mix that comes through loud and clear. Dialogue is clean and clear and easy to understand (especially the comical ones…and no, I won’t let that go), while sound effects and the soundtrack come through with full force, rocking the room around the room with the surround and subwoofer. It’s a satisfying mix, but nothing that’s overly aggressive or in-your-face a lot of the time. In fact you’ll probably be surprised by how subdued it does get, but that’s more to do with the films repeated dramatic sequences versus the action ones.
Moving onto the extras we first come upon a commentary with Director David Ayer, who is very eager to talk about all the details of the film. He seems just as excited and involved with this film as he was with his past works and it shows, as he’s able to recall minute details and plenty of interesting tidbits surrounding the production of the film. Ayer also provides optional commentary on sixteen deleted scenes (12:20). In addition to the deleted scenes there are ten Alternate Takes (29:05) to go through, although these do not come with Ayer commentary.
A Blu-ray exclusive extra is the “Picture-in-Picture – Under Surveillance: Inside the World of Street Kings” that pops up behind-the-scenes footage while watching the film. In addition to the Picture-in-Picture extras is “Street Rules: Rolling with David Ayer and Jaime FitzSimons” (17:28), a featurette that takes us on a tour of the streets of L.A. with the retired FitzSimons, while “L.A. Bete Noir: Writing Street Kings” (4:49) talks about the script process for the film. “Street Cred” Featurette (3:51) interviews the secondary characters of the film, including Common and The Game, and talks about just how dangerous the streets of L.A. can be.
“HBO First Look – City of Fallen Angles: Making Street Kings” Featurette (12:01) fits in the promotional fluff cabinet, while Vignettes (7:51, 4 total) tackle specific elements of the film’s production. Behind-the-Scenes (3:59, 4 total) wraps up the rest of featurettes with another smattering of short-and-to-the-point extras, while Theatrical Trailer A (1:20) and Theatrical Trailer B (1:45) are both presented in 1080p with 5.1 surround audio.
Overall a solid Blu-ray presentation that is backed up but a solid host of bonus features. A pity none are in HD (and the majority seem to be in full screen too…even stranger), but I guess it ultimately doesn’t matter. Like the film this release comes Recommended if you like those involved (in this case, director David Ayer as you’ll be hearing him talk through the majority of the extras), but a Rental if you aren’t certain.
Street Kings arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on August 19th.