"It's time to turn the page and close the book!" barks Forest Whitaker's LAPD veteran in David Ayer's gritty cop thriller. It's advice the helmer might well heed himself, having patrolled these mean streets pretty thoroughly in both his Training Day and Dark Blue scripts and his directorial debut Harsh Times. But at least he's brought back-up this time around in the heavyweight shape of James Ellroy, whose original story forms the basis for this tale of a rule-breaking detective (Keanu Reeves) intent on finding the gang-banger scum who iced his stinking rat of an ex-partner (Terry Crews).
As that brief précis suggests, no one's above reproach in Street Kings - least of all Tom Ludlow (Reeves), a vodka-swilling, hair-trigger burn-out whose idea of softly-softly is to beat a confession out of a suspect with a telephone directory. (Not for nothing is he called "LA's deadliest white boy" and "the last of the ghetto gunfighters.") Even a dirty cop has ethics, though, and Tom's won't let him rest until he's found Crews' killers - with a little help from Chris Evans' eager-beaver rookie, the kind of young, dumb, blue flame special Keanu would probably have played himself just a few years ago.
On paper it looks like a case of the bland leading the blond. Yet thanks to some blistering carnage, a strength-in-depth ensemble (including Hugh Laurie as a tough-talking Internal Affairs man and rapper The Game as a scarily unhinged villain) and reams of hard-boiled verbals, Ayer's drama proves far more enthralling than you'd expect. Yes, Reeves is still too fresh-faced to convince as a latter-day Harry Callaghan, while it's no surprise to find out who's at the bottom of this particular conspiracy. For the most part, though, Kings delivers enough visceral thrills and juicy turns to compensate for its hand-me-down feel and Keanu's hilariously improbable capacity to extricate himself from two certain-death situations in the space of five minutes.
"Are there any square cops out there?" says a supporting character in David Ayer's actioner. The answer, of course, is no - and this violent yarn is all the better for it. Next time out, though, he should probably assign himself a less familiar beat.