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:
- 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 and Grace 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.
- 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 that the reason he pushed Ludlow to look deeper into Washington's death was because 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 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Capt. 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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: 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.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.
- 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.
- Your Cheating Heart: Ludlow's found out his wife was cheating on him when she died.
- 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.
- 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.