In the spring of 2008, a modestly-budgeted cop thriller called Street Kings grossed an equally modest sixty-five million dollars worldwide on the strength of an A-list cast. The ensemble included Keanu Reeves, Chris Evans, Hugh Laurie, and Forest Whitaker. New on Blu-ray is a sequel that bears no relation to the first, other than genre and name. Street Kings 2: Motor City has only one marquee name, Ray Liotta. As the title suggests, rather than the earlier film’s Los Angeles setting, this one is set in Detroit. Rest assured, if you haven’t seen the 2008 film you won’t be lost watching the new one.
To be honest, I can’t think of much reason to suggest watching Street Kings 2. I suppose there are a few Ray Liotta completists out there who will add to their collection any movie in which he appears. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan. Going all the way back to the underrated Jonathan Demme classic, Something Wild, Liotta has been an intense actor. I never quite figured out why his powerhouse performance as Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas didn’t turn him into a major star. Maybe because in the years that followed he squandered his talent in forgettable fare like Article 99, No Escape, and Operation Dumbo Drop.
In Street Kings 2, Liotta stars as veteran Detroit cop Marty Kingston. After a chaotic drug deal gone bad that results in the murder of Kingston’s partner, he is paired with a rookie named Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy). Sullivan gets suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the killing of Kingston’s former partner. He starts working with internal affairs and soon realizes Kingston might be a dirty cop. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because about a million other cop movies and TV shows have dealt with similar subject matter. The problem isn’t that this movie is formulaic. It’s that it does nothing interesting or compelling with the formula.
Though Liotta is cashing a paycheck, he still commands attention with his usual strong work. He’s played a dirty cop before in far superior movies, so it’s unfortunate to see him treading water in a clunker like this. If you haven’t seen Joe Carnahan’s Narc (2002) or James Mangold’s Cop Land (1997), I urge you to do so before watching Street Kings 2. Liotta was Oscar-worthy in both those earlier police dramas. As for the supporting cast, Hatosy does what he can with the rather dim-witted Detective Sullivan. The only actor who appeared in the first Street Kings, Clifton Powell as Sergeant Greene, has some fun with some hilariously over the top dialogue. Other than that, it’s all bland competence.
Here’s the best news about Street Kings 2: Motor City: the Blu-ray looks great. Framed at 1.78:1, the 1080p MPEG-4 AVC-encoded transfer presents a strikingly sharp image. The gritty Detroit cityscape, looking authentically dilapidated, is captured in great detail. After watching the special features, I realized this film was shot using digital cameras. I guess it makes sense that the digital cinematography transferred so accurately to the high definition Blu-ray format. From the shiny finish of the muscle cars to the dirty concrete buildings, every visual aspect of this movie registers vividly onscreen.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also quite strong for a low-budget, direct-to-video flick. The soundtrack is peppered with lots of bluesy rock & roll, all of which bursts from the speakers with full, bottom-heavy sound. Action scenes are fairly immersive, with crisp gunshots and squealing car tires. Dialogue is always clear and centered. The surround channels are relatively sparingly engaged, but effective when they are utilized. All told, Street Kings 2: Motor City offers a high level of technical quality.
Supplemental features are sorely lacking, though there are a few interesting bits and pieces. The two deleted scenes are a waste of time. Three “Murder Scene Deconstructions” break down the filming of the key death scenes in the movie. “Creating a Convincing Cop Story” is a fluffy EPK-style piece that finds the writer and director boasting about the movie’s realism. There are a couple of other equally lightweight featurettes, one dealing with the opening drug deal scene and another discussing the decision to film in Detroit. Rounding out the package is a second disc containing a standard definition DVD of Street Kings 2: Motor City.