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'Street Kings'

Prior to seeing Street Kings, I'd have said that writers James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential) and David Ayer (Training Day) were precisely the folks you'd want behind the scenes on a corrupt-cops thriller. Now I'm not so sure.

Separately idiosyncratic, the two have come up with a joint project (Ayer directing an Ellroy story) that mostly repackages genre cliches with an added dollop of violence. Keanu Reeves is the film's Charles Bronson-esque lead, a theoretically principled cop caught between boss Forest Whitaker and Internal Affairs detective Hugh Laurie as a scandal looms; he'll go to any lengths to expose department corruption, Reeves' character will, but apparently he sees no contradiction in faking crime scenes and coercing sources as he's doing it.

Bodies start piling up (rappers Common and The Game among them), as do stereotypes, as the film wends its way to a conclusion that's at once predictable and incoherent. Getting there would be more fun — Reeves seems to down a single-shot bottle of vodka every time he gets behind the wheel — if the plot didn't have holes through which he could drive whole fleets of squad cars.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.