Every so often, sometimes inadvertently, movies comment about themselves. Sometimes amusingly, sometimes not. In George Miller‘s The Road Warrior, you’re expected to chuckle when the Humungous says after lots of high-velocity mayhem, “There’s been entirely too much violence.”
Keanu Reeves (center) in David Ayer’s Street Kings (Fox Searchlight, 4.11)
In Chapter 27 , the recently-released drama about the build-up to the killing of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman (Jared Leto), it’s hard not to smirk when Leto, speaking in a strongly actor-ish southern drawl, says he can’t stand movies in which actors seem to be showing off.
Another such moment happens in David Ayer‘s Street Kings (Fox Searchlight, 4.11) in which someone — Keanu Reeves or Forest Whitaker, I forget which — says, “Too many guys have been shot.” Which, from my perspective, was certainly one of the problems with the film, if not the problem. Few things irritate me more than a crime film with an excessive body count. It’s not an absolute law, but it tends to be true more often than not: the less gunshots a crime thriller has, the better it tends to be.
I don’t know for a fact that Street King‘s co-screenwriter James Ellroy has problems with it also, but telling L.A. Times staffer Scott Timberg, in a 4.6 article about his relationship with Hollywood, that he wouldn’t discuss it certainly indicates a reservation or two. Ellroy shares screenplay credit with Kurt Wimmer and Jamie Moss. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Ellroy isn’t much for accomodating himself to the views and visions of others.
There may be several crime thrillers that have worked just fine with gunshots galore, but I can’t think of any right now. Back in the ’70s and ’80s the prevailing rule was that any crime thriller with a big car chase was definitely suspect, and quite possibly bad. (Because a film looking to ape the legendary car chases in Bullitt and The French Connection always seemed to be doing just that.) Too much burned rubber = a lack of style and imagination.
One more thing: when Forest Whitaker is a good film, like The Crying Game or The Last King of Scotland or The Great Debaters, he’s a champ and a prince. But when he’s in a bad or problematic one, like Street Kings or Vantage Point or Species, he seems to almost make it somehow worse.
Maybe it’s because Whitaker is such a committed whole-hog type who’s intensely into whatever he’s acting. Put him in a crummy film and he always seems to be saying to the viewer, “Man, I’m not gonna rest or hold back until you understand — completely, totally, without a doubt — that this movie I’m acting in right now is pretty damn awful. I’m not gonna leave you alone about this. I’m gonna hammer and hammer and make it hurt. You will be in pain by the time I’m finished with you.”