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The Cinematic Curmudgeon

“Dirty” director Chris Fisher’s nihilistic police corruption melodrama

 
“Street Kings 2: Motor City” (** OUT OF ****) shares some narrative threads with its superior theatrical predecessor–director David Ayer’s “Street Kings.” Meaning, this straight-to-video potboiler qualifies as an in-name-only sequel. None of the main characters reprise their roles. The setting has been shifted from Los Angeles to Detroit. “Grizzly Mountain” scenarist Jeremy Haft and freshman scribe Ed Gonzalez rely on Fritz Lang’s 1953 crime thriller “The Big Heat” for the revenge part of their plot. Ray Liotta’s presence as treacherous narcotics detective Marty Kingston, and the majestic urban setting of Detroit are the only two things that distinguish the predictable, often unsavory “Street Kings 2.” Aside from Liotta and Shawn Hatosy, the cast makes little impression, and the hard-boiled dialogue is largely forgettable. Nobody says anything worth quoting. The shoot-outs generate neither suspense nor excitement. The surprises are too few and far between. Fisher and his writers blow the killer’s identity about 30 minutes into this half-baked whodunit, and the disclosure of the murderer’s identity is no revelation. Spotting the killer is rather easy since the filmmakers provide red herrings so obvious that you know they are distractions.

This formulaic murder-mystery opens three years before a Detroit cop killing spree. Metro Narcs swap lead with angry drug dealers after they blow their cover. Marty Kingston (Ray Liotta of “Goodfellas”) shoots one massively built coked-up thug. Marty’s slugs don’t stop Mikey (Tim Holmes of “Asian Task Force”) who disarms him and then shoots Marty in the right thigh before back-up arrives to blast Mikey. Marty and his crew confiscate $3 million dollars. This brief prologue serves to introduce most of the primary characters, namely the narcs.The contemporary story begins thereafter with the homicide of undercover narc Sal Quintana (Scott Norman of “The Art of Power”) who Internal Affairs has had under close scrutiny for accepting bribes from strip clubs. After a drunken Quintana exits a strip joint, a hooded assailant in another car pulls up, shoots him in the neck, and later rams him with his car, shooting him two more times. We’re told that Quintana was Marty’s partner in narcotics for eight years. A pesky Internal Affairs cop approaches Marty after Quintana’s funeral and asks him if Quintana was on the take. Marty defends Quintana as a good cop. Afterward, Detective Tyrone Fowler (Clifton Powell of “Norbit”) and Detective Rogen (Kevin Chapman of “Unstoppable”) approach Marty, and Fowler utters a snide comment about Marty’s new friend, a reference to the Internal Affairs sergeant.

Rookie detective Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy of “Public Enemies”) is assigned to the case. He wants nothing to do with Marty, but he is forced to work with him. Sullivan’s back story is that an unknown assailant murdered his policeman father at a simple traffic stop.

Eventually, Sullivan and Marty come to tolerate each other. Later, Sullivan questions Fowler and Rogen, but gets nothing out of them. At a secret rendezvous, Fowler rants at Marty about Sullivan. Marty approaches Sullivan about Fowler. It seems that Sullivan had discovered Fowler’s connection with Quintana from Quintana’s own landlady at the Lap of Luxury Apartments. Fowler and Quintana were friendly enough for Fowler to bounce a check for his rent. Anyhow, Marty learns to his surprise that Internal Affairs is poised to question them. Suddenly, Fowler dies outside a massage parlor after shooting it out with a hooded character inside. Later, Rogen breaks his neck at a wharf while fighting an assailant. Sullivan tells Marty. “Got three dead cops. All killed before they talked to I.A. Something bigger going on here.”

Police chief Captain Walker (Linda Boston of “Stone”) wants the murderer apprehended at any cost. As far as she is concerned, all criminals can run free until the police arrest the cop killer. The authorities snag something of a break in the third narc’s murder. Rogen dies as he is wrestling with the killer within the view of a surveillance camera. Naturally, the killer is bundled into a hoodie so his features don’t stand out prominently enough for identification purposes. Haft and Gonzalez let the cat out of the bag early when the villain takes down another corrupt cop. As it turns out, our heroic villain used his share of ‘dirty’ money to pay for his wife’s cancer treatments. Had Marty not taken his loved one to Mexico she would have died. Marty comes clean to Dan after he learns that Dan has found out about his wife’s hospital visit in Mexico. This is the moment in act II and the first in act III. Ironically, Dan is about to relent until contrived plotting breaks and enters.

“Street Kings 2: Motor City” gets a lot of visual mileage out of Detroit as a setting. This change of scenery from the usual Los Angeles or New York City locales imparts a spontaneity to the action but nothing is refreshing about its conventional, unimaginative plot. Sadly, Fisher doesn’t stage any complicated shoot-outs. He keeps everything pretty basic. Not surprisingly, this lackluster law & order saga takes itself too seriously, with only a modicum of humor. Liotta dons a McGruff, Crime-Dog costume, for an amusing scene at his son Casey’s Detroit school. We catch a glimpse of Liotta in church on his knees where he should be spending lot time. Marty believes family comes first. Marty is a paranoid person. Moreover, he believes that the ends justify the means. Once a threat emerges, Marty responds with short-sighted fervor. What Fisher cannot conjure up with stunning action set-pieces, he tries to compensate for with suspense and atmosphere.

Thematically, he explores the morally murky terrain that the men-in-blue patrol as he did in “Dirty” and makes Detroit look a convincingly dangerous. Marty and Dan amount to two-dimensional characters while everybody else just blends into the scenery. “Street Kings 2: Motor City” is no better or worse than past standard-issue cop versus cop movies. The unrated version of this cop-killer epic boasts brief nudity, some violence and bloodshed, suspenseful situations, and profanity.

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