Ray Liotta has one of those rare movie faces that has grown even more unique as he’s reached middle age. The 57-yeard-old actor has a handsome screen presence, but the looks hide a grizzled, raw menace behind the smile. Martin Scorsese used this combination perfectly in Goodfellas to make us both like and abhor Henry Hill, Liotta’s signature role. Since that breakthrough performance, the talented actor’s career has included plenty of highs and lows, with too much time spent in B-grade crime pictures. His hulking frame is built to play cops and gangsters, but there’s a fine line between playing full-fledged characters and your run-of-the-mill thug.
Liotta lends his considerable presence to the straight-to-video sequel Street Kings 2: Motor City, which is unrelated to the original Keanu Reeves vehicle. This appears to involve the studio pulling a successful name onto a completely separate picture. The title, combined with Liotta’s name, should be enough to generate some modest interest. I haven’t seen Street Kings, so I can only guess on whether the films’ themes are closely related. They both involve police corruption, which appears to be enough to connect them superficially.
The story involves the brutal murder of an undercover cop in Detroit and the investigation to solve the case. Liotta plays narcotics detective Marty Kingston, who has close ties to the victim. He teams up with young homicide detective Dan Sullivan (Shawn Hatosy) as the bodies start piling up. With three cops dead, the police force rises up to avenge their own. However, the reality might be a lot different, and the idealistic Sullivan stars putting together the pieces. This could bring him into conflict with Kingston, who’s ready to move on from the entire situation.
Street Kings 2 treads on very familiar territory of corruption, shattered ideals and loyalty. Hatosy (Southland) brings some decent weight to the young Sullivan, but he’s trapped within the confines of a subpar script. Writers Ed Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft have few screen credits to their name, and this story feels like their failed attempt to deliver a gritty drama. The supporting characters speak in tired clichés that wouldn’t fit your standard police television series. Director Chris Fisher generally (S. Darko) puts the camera in the right place, but the tone feels like a straight-to-video sequel. The music appears designed to spice up the shootouts, but all it does is call attention to the production’s generic nature.
Liotta does his best to make Kingston a three-dimensional figure, though even his work lacks consistency. It’s possible this uneven portrayal relates to the shiftiness of his character, but I’m not convinced that’s the reason. Even a strong actor like Liotta can do so much with limited material. It baffles me to understand what drew him to this extremely standard material. The title cites the Detroit setting, but this story could take place anywhere. The locations are mostly back alleys and warehouses, so they gain little by shooting in Detroit. This hearkens back to what I discussed earlier about the studio trying to create a franchise with a very thin connection to the first film.
The bonus features include two deleted scenes showing Sullivan arguing with his wife and briefly praying at church. They more clearly identify his downward spiral but add little to the finished movie. Another group of featurettes outlines each murder, with some background provided by Fisher and other crew members. “Creating a Convincing Cop Story” offers five minutes about how they tried to make the story believable. I’m not convinced. Also, there are brief features about the opening gunfight and the Detroit setting. These extras offer some interesting background if you enjoyed the film, but it can only add so much to this second-rate production.
Street Kings 2 eventually morphs into a revenge picture, concluding with a western-style showdown between the two opposing forces. There’s little suspense about how the end will go based on how each guy has been portrayed throughout the movie. Like much of the action, this battle occurs in the dark, designed to add tension. Unfortunately, this choice has the opposite effect and leaves us disinterested about what’s actually happening. After a brisk 93 minutes, I was relieved to step away from this world and have thought little about these characters since the credits rolled.