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L.A. Confidential
by James Ellroy
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)

The DVD
. "Street Kings"

Where is "L.A. Confidential" when you need it? Why this bitter, hard-nosed cop drama partially from the pen of L.A. author James Ellroy, who wrote "The Black Dahlia" novel, doesn't meet expectations would be twofold: the script and the casting. Keanu Reeves, while attractive in spades, doesn't bring to the central character of a cop drama what Bruce Willis, Kevin Spacey or Russell Crowe do. Reeves, in this context, is too distant, too untouchable and morose, to provide a handle on the man within the character. For fighting crime, he's tough enough but, I hate to say it, a "B" lister.

Tom Ludlow (Reeves) is way too much of a lone ranger. The term "team player" isn't part of his cop lexicon, and he regularly pisses off his squad colleagues. It happens again when he busts a gang everyone's looking for because they've kidnapped twin sisters. It's a headline case. So, when Ludlow traces them to an address, what does he do? Call for backup? Oh, no. He's a killing machine and handles it himself with a lone entry, gun blazing, and grabs the headlines. The bust is his alone. Well, maybe it's a matter of trust.

Tweaking the facts about how it went down is Captain Wander, (Forest Whitaker) Ludlow's protector and supervisor, whose ability to keep his errant favorite out of trouble after such an exploit, might justify renaming him Captain Wonder. But, you can be sure of one thing, he's a political cop with connections up and down the line and everything he does is in his own long-term interests.

Ludlow has confrontations with just about every fellow officer, tough men all, with loyalties always in question. But what is really steaming him is his ex-partner Detective Terrance Washington (Terry Crews) who seems to be spilling his guts to Internal Affairs chief Biggs (Hugh Laurie). Typically, and against Wander's orders, Ludlow is determined to deal directly with Washington and stakes him out to see who else he's talking to.

When Washington drives to a small market Ludlow, who has been following him, is about to follow him in when he sees two tough guys wearing masks and toting heavy artillery, getting ready to enter the market. He runs in ahead of them to warn Washington that a hit is in progress but Washington's rage at Ludlow's appearance distracts them both from preventing the attack.

But this is no market hold-up. The target is Washington, and the amount of lead he takes to his body would sink a sailboat. Again, Ludlow's angel of a boss Wander rewrites the events so that Ludlow's appearance on the scene is not a badge-losing event. But who are these assassins?

With the help of a new Robbery-Homicide Detective (Chris Evans), Ludlow intends to find out, and the trail turns out to have a few twists, with death waiting at every switchback. Martha Higareda plays nurse Grace Garcia who heats up the screen with her every appearance but who plays a small and gratuitous role in the dramatic essentials.

In the end, Reeves gives us very little to work with as a hero to cheer on or to give much of a damn about. With personal gut-level involvement missing, with Whitaker's shaky broadness, and a crew of evil operatives you never get a feel for until they meet their end, this is underdeveloped material from Ellroy's and Kurt Wimmer's ("Ultraviolet") screenplay. The genre is not well served.

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Writer David Ayer ("S.W.A.T.," "Training Day") got his second shot at directing, which he does with a half empty clip. Naomi Harris does a nice turn as the dead cop's widow and Cedric the Entertainer is appropropriate enough as a wishy washy criminal intermediary who can put the parties together. In general, the supporting cast is up to the requirements, doing their part to maintain the masculine ferocity of a dangerous world. This would particularly include Evans and Jay Mohr. The failures of the script are not on them.

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Keanu Reeves as Detective Ludlow
Cleaning out the bad guys, single-handed.

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