Disco: You bored or something?
In the movie, Reeves plays LAPD Detective Tom Ludlow, a functioning alcoholic and widower who cares more about "getting the job done" than playing by the rules. But when his former partner Detective Terrence Washington (Terry Crews) is gunned down in an apparent convenience store robbery Gone Horribly Wrong, Ludlow quickly finds himself implicated in the murder and under investigation by determined Internal Affairs investigator Captain James Biggs (Laurie). Ludlow sets out to Clear His Name with the help of honest cop Detective Paul "Disco" Diskant (Evans) and ends up being forced to confront the corruption on the streets and inside his own unit.
This film provides examples of:
- Alas, Poor Villain: Jack Wander is no saint by any means but it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him at the end despite all that he has done because he actually did really think what he was doing for his unit and the city was a good thing and had very genuinely love for Ludlow and when Ludlow rejects his request to join him in his corrupt quest to take over the city, Wander quietly accepts his fate - death at the hands of his best friend.
- Scribble dies moments after revealing that, while a drug dealer, he's unwilling to kill another person.
- Anyone Can Die: This film should've been named Dead Star Walking: The Movie. Every single character played by a well-known actor dies. Ludlow, Biggs, Linda, Grace, Green, and possibly Clady are the only survivors.
- Arc Words: "Exigent circumstances."
- Armor Is Useless: Averted. During the attack on the Korean slavers, Ludlow's bulletproof vest protects him from a shotgun blast that very likely would have killed him.
- Artistic License – Medicine: Ludlow says that his wife died because she had a blood clot in her brain, and it burst. Blood clots do not "burst". What is meant is an aneurysm, a structural defect in a blood vessel. It's not clear whether this was a goof by the screenwriters or whether it is a case of Ludlow not being that well-versed in medical matters.
- Ask a Stupid Question...: A woman who has spent five hours in a line of people filing complaints about the police is pretty annoyed at being asked if she has a complaint.Woman: Obviously I have a complaint. You know what, this is some bullshit. That's why I hate all these motherfucking cops. Fuck all y'all!
- Asshole Victim: No tears will be shed for the four Korean sex slavers who are easily shot down by Ludlow.
- The real Fremont and Coates. Not only were they dope dealers but where also psychotic kidnapping rapists who tortured a poor college girl for three consecutive days. For that matter, the fake Fremont and Coates likely won't be mourned by too many people, either.
- In fact, Ludlow’s entire unit. Not only did they get revealed as Dirty Cops, but drug dealers, murderers, and potential rapists as well.
- The Bad Guys Are Cops: Quite a few examples throughout the film. Perhaps the most noteworthy example being the real “Coates” and “Fremont.” They are initially played up as two psychotic drug dealers and murderers before Ludlow manages to kill them. Shortly after dealing with them, however, Ludlow finds out that they were each in fact undercover deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who went rogue after spending far too much time undercover.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: “Coates” and “Fremont”, the two psychotic killers who were played up to be the main villains of the film, turn out to be this. Ludlow manages to kill them but it is later revealed that they were both deputies in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who went rogue after being undercover for so long. It is shortly thereafter revealed that Captain Wander and the rest of Ludlow’s unit are the main villains.
- Bald of Evil: Santos has a shaved head and is a smug and brutal Dirty Cop.
- Batman Gambit: This movie employs a couple of these:
- At the start of the movie, Ludlow intentionally goads the Korean gangsters into beating him up and stealing his car. He then uses the GPS tracking device in the car to track them to their hideout so he can bust in the house, kill them and rescue the two missing Korean schoolgirls locked in a cage deep inside the house.
- At the end, Biggs reveals the real reason he pushed Ludlow to look deeper into Washington's death: Wander had become too powerful in his corruption and the higher-ups wanted to get rid of him. So they left Ludlow a trail of breadcrumbs and let his own desire for justice take down Wander's operation from the inside.Ludlow: This was your plan, Captain? Just sit back and let us all kill each other?
Biggs: You were the plan. No one else could touch him. Once your eyes were open, there was no other outcome. Decisions were made, Tom. Powerful men with powerful secrets. They were afraid of Jack. They asked me to help.
- Big Bad Friend: Ludlow's entire unit is in on Washington's murder and have gone way too far in their corruption, keeping Ludlow in the dark because of his better morals. Capt. Wander (the prime mover in the whole operation) even admits at the end that despite ordering him killed, he loves Tom more than any of the other guys in their unit and unlike them he is irreplaceable for him. They say goodbye as family before Ludlow shoots his friend.
- Blood from the Mouth: Washington and Diskant. Justified since Washington had been shot repeatedly in the torso and Diskant had been shot in the throat.
- Buy Them Off: Capt. Wander attempts to do this with Ludlow. It doesn't work.
- By-the-Book Cop: Ludlow's former partner Washington, who disapproves of his Cowboy Cop attitude.
- The Cameo: The Chief who gives the eulogy at Washington’s funeral is none other than real life and infamous former LAPD Police Chief Daryl Gates.
- Camping a Crapper: In the opening detective Ludlow executes a group of sex slavers during arrest, including shooting one criminal who's seated on the toilet. His colleagues later tease him about it, saying that shooting a man like that is like shooting a man in church.
- Cowboy Cop:
- Deconstructed and Reconstructed as Biggs recognizes that Ludlow's methods, while questionable, are sometimes necessary.Ludlow: If you're going to do something, do it now. I know you want my scalp nailed to your wall, but then who's going to go in where the law won't? You, Captain? You? You gonna clean up the needles and baby parts? No. You need me and my company of men. You hate me, but you need me.
Biggs: Ludlow, maybe you're right. Maybe we do need you. But goddamn if you don't need me, son.
- At the end of the movie:Biggs: One day, you will pass the chief in the hall and he will give you a nod. And you will know why. Because you were right, Tom. We do need you.
- Also Diskant, despite his clean-cut appearance, would love nothing more than to be a "gunfighter" like Ludlow, much to the latter's surprise, and he's more than willing to assist him into getting to the bottom of Washington's murder by any legal and extralegal means. Sadly, it gets him killed.
- Deconstructed and Reconstructed as Biggs recognizes that Ludlow's methods, while questionable, are sometimes necessary.
- Da Chief: Subverted in that rather than being asked to Turn In His Badge, his captain actively covers up Ludlow's misdeeds.
- Deadpan Snarker: Ludlow.Ludlow: So what do they call you?
Quicks: They call me... They call me Quicks, man.
Ludlow: Not quick enough.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Ludlow starts looking for the drug dealers Freemont and Coates after their DNA is found at the scene of Washington's murder. He later tracks them to their house in the Hollywood Hills, only to discover that they're both long dead and buried and that the men walking around as Freemont and Coates are imposters.
- Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: Washington posthumously framed of stealing drugs from the department's evidence room.
- Dirty Cop: Although most of the cops in the film are "dirty" to one extent or another, Ludlow and Diskant play this trope straight when they pretend to be corrupt cops in order to meet with the pretend "Freemont" and "Coates" so they can kill Washington's killers.
- Defective Detective: Ludlow is this to an extent. While he is a highly skilled and experienced detective, he is an alcoholic, using booze as a way to cope with the pressures of the job. His alcoholism also likely stems from his wife, who died from a brain aneurysm while she was sleeping with another man.
- He also can’t seem to function unless he’s allowed to work as a street cop; when he is briefly assigned to Internal Affairs he is very obviously miserable. Some cops are made for the street and Ludlow is definitely one of them.
- Fair Cop: Detective Paul Diskant courtesy of being played by Chris Evans. Also, Ludlow, who is played by Keanu Reeves also qualifies.
- Fanservice: Grace emerging from the water in a bikini during the pool party where she meets Ludlow's team.
- Good Is Not Nice: Ludlow would've been a fully-fledged Dirty Cop if it weren't for his redeeming qualities.
- He Who Fights Monsters: It's later discovered that fake "Freemont" and "Coates" were undercover LA County Sheriff's Deputies who had gone rogue.Who are we, detective? We straight nightmares. We the walking, talking exigent circumstances.
- Hospital Hottie: Nurse Grace Garcia, Ludlow's girlfriend. She regularly has to patch him up due to his Cowboy Cop tendencies getting him injured a lot.
- Instant Death Bullet: Averted when Diskant is shot in the throat and Tom can't save him in time.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: Ludlow invokes this to goad the Korean gangsters into beating him up and stealing his car.Thug Kim: Konnichiwa is Japanese. It's insultin' to Koreans.
Ludlow: How am I supposed to tell if you can't?
Thug Kim: Fuck's that supposed to mean, white boy?
Ludlow: It means you got eyes like apostrophes, you dress white, talk black and drive Jew, so how am I supposed to know what kind of zipperhead, dog-munching dink you are if you don't?
Boss Kim: Yo. Do you know who the fuck we are?
Ludlow: Yeah. A couple of panheads buyin' a machine gun out of a trunk.
- Internal Affairs: The first part of the movie makes it look as if the Internal Affairs Department has some kind of personal vendetta against cops who are "only trying to do their jobs". Subverted when it's revealed that they were totally justified, as the cops they were investigating actually were corrupt.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Ludlow didn’t get the nickname “Phone Book Tom” for nothing. Grill had to find out the hard way.
- Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Captain Wander, as revealed by his actions.
- Large Ham: Forest Whitaker. During the big reveal towards the end of the movie, his acting gets so over the top that it makes Keanu Reeves' usual Dull Surprise look like a normal restrained performance by comparison.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Scribble is referred to as "an OG" and is a consummate drug dealer, but he seems to balk at physical violence. When ordered by the fake Fremont and Coates to shoot Ludlow, he can't even bring himself to touch a gun. This sadly costs him his life.
- Mistaken for Racist: Washington accuses Ludlow of being racist after he shoots up the Korean gang in the intro.
- Not Helping Your Case: The things Ludlow does after he's suspected of having Washington killed (stealing the security footage, removing a bullet from his gun from the autopsy room, pressuring the detective investigating the death) make him look far guiltier than if he just told the truth about what happened.
- No Warrant? No Problem!: Ludlow, by himself, gets the kidnappers to steal a car with a tracker, then uses that tracker to trail the kidnappers to their hideout, and ambushes them unannounced, by himself. When being debriefed by his captain, he claims "exigent circumstances" as his rationale for busting in without a warrant or backup. That might stand up legally (though as all the suspects are dead, the issue of any evidence being admissible is a moot point by then).
- Police Brutality: The main reason why the real Fremont and Coates walked from the kidnapping-sexual assault-mutilation case is because Washington reported to the City Attorney that Santos and Demille roughed the both of them up during the arrest.
- Ludlow as mentioned about in Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
- When two characters are revealed to be corrupt cops, they immediately start talking about sexually assaulting Linda and Grace. Clady is actually trying it on Linda when Ludlow returns to her house.
- It is heavily implied that two kidnapped girls were sex slaves, so it is much easier to sympathize with Ludlow, who technically murdered four people to rescue them.
- The real Fremont and Coates partook in the kidnapping, rape and torture of a Guatemalan college girl for three days before being busted by Santos and Demille.
- Redemption Equals Death: Washington was killed because he was going to expose Wander's corruption to Internal Affairs.Biggs: Hey, Detective. Did you ever ask yourself if Washington's dead because he was dirty, or because he came clean?
- Also Scribble refusing to pick up his gun despite being ordered by the fake “Fremont and Coates” to shoot Ludlow. He’s immediately shot dead after saying he can’t do it.
- Retirony: Linda tells Ludlow she and Washington were planning on moving to the Bahamas soon since he knew he put a target on his back for talking to Internal Affairs, but he was killed first.
- Ship Tease: A very odd example regarding Biggs/Ludlow. Wander states in Biggs' office, while accompanied by both Biggs and Ludlow, it's plain to him that Biggs is interested in Ludlow. In this case, it's apparent that he's doing this to insult Biggs (and drive a wedge between Ludlow and Biggs); Biggs is interested in Ludlow, but only in the sense that he's investigating him for allegations of corruption, and it's abundantly clear that Ludlow despises Internal Affairs in general and Biggs in particular.
- Spiritual Successor: To Training Day. In fact, if you just alter the final 20 minutes of Training Day, it would be a direct sequel.
- The Can Kicked Him: Ludlow shoots one of the Korean gangsters while the man's sitting on the toilet. His fellow officers poke fun at him for this.Santos: How can you shoot a guy taking a dump? I mean, seriously, that's sacred. That's like shooting a man in church.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Washington's death. Both robbers empty an entire clip each into him. Even worse, one of the bullets is Ludlow's thanks to a missed shot that hit Washington by mistake.
- Three-Volley Flinch: Used to show how Ludlow is beginning to lose the cold hard veneer he had as the leader of a squad of vice cops after his partner is brutally murdered.
- Token Good Cop: The murdered Detective Washington seems to have been this. He was trying to bring an end to police corruption at his old haunt, while his former teammates are prone to Cowboy Cop antics like extrajudicial executions, and all of them besides Ludlow are deeply corrupt and are working with several bad cops outside of the team. Internal Affairs cop Briggs and Diskant, who help Ludlow investigate Washington's death, have good intentions but are also willing to abet a lot of lawbreaking to close the case.
- Unwitting Pawn:
Tom: Whatever happened to just locking up bad people?
- Ludlow thinks he's bringing criminals to justice, when in fact Captain Wander has just been using him to gain power and leverage over the city government.
- At the same time, Ludlow is also a pawn in Captain Biggs' counter-scheme to dismantle Wander's unit.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The opening sequence features a hungover Ludlow brushing his teeth, and then suddenly stopping to throw up in the nearby toilet.
- We Can Rule Together: Wander tries to get Ludlow to join him in his crooked quest to take over the City of Los Angeles but he refuses.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Sergeant Clady is caught in the act of trying to rape and kill Washington's widow and ends up locked in Ludlow's trunk, but it's never revealed what happens to him afterward. He could have either been arrested for his crimes, murdered, or released to cover up Ludlow's actions.
- What the Hell, Hero?: After the shooting of the Korean gangsters and the rescue of the girls, Washington calls out his former partner Ludlow by reminding him that the gangsters still had a right to a fair trial. Ludlow responds with I Did What I Had to Do.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Captain Wander is one of the biggest cases in movie history.
- Wrong Side All Along: Detective Ludlow and his team are supported by Captain Wander in their Cowboy Cop tendencies. A former partner of Ludlow then starts snitching to the antagonistic Captain Biggs from Internal Affairs before being killed in an apparently random shooting. Ludlow eventually discovers that Biggs's investigation was entirely justified and Wander has been running a wholesale extortion and murder racket behind Ludlow's back.