On paper, a teaming of Oscar winner Halle Berry and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, in a drama set during the 1992 L.A. riots would seem promising. Unfortunately, Kings is the polar opposite of that expectation and, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), is a tone-deaf misfire that does absolutely no justice to its stars or important subject matter.
Perhaps something was lost in translation as this is the first English-language picture from director Deniz Gamze Erguven, who was Oscar-nominated for the terrific 2015 French-Turkish coming-of-age movie Mustang but here seems to be in way over her head. What a shame.
Set during the racially tense and combustive period in and around the L.A. riots that followed the controversial verdict in the Rodney King trial in which a mostly white jury acquitted four police officers in the assault on the black motorist, this movie veers from family drama to slapstick comedy to pointless sex scenes to searing riot footage. In other words it is all over the place, and I am not quite sure what Erguven’s real intent is. Movies about American political issues as filtered through the eyes of a foreigner can be compelling if competently written and directed, something this film fails in from the ground up.
Berry plays Millie, a bleeding-heart mother taking in eight foster kids and trying to bring them up with dignity in the danger zone of South Central Los Angeles. It’s not easy but this is a good-hearted woman doing her best. Across the way in the same apartment complex is an unhinged, unpredictable neighbor named Obie (Craig) who walks around nude in his place in full sight of others and, to be kind, is a bit quirky. But he becomes friendly with Millie and her brood, even leading to a pointless fantasy dream for Millie in which she has sex with him. Say what? In the background of these establishing scenes, however, is a TV set with increasingly ominous news of the King trial and imminent violent outbreak. The main event is the riot, and Erguven incorporates real footage and at times even gets some raw documentary pulse to the proceedings. It all crashes down once again when, while looking for missing kids, Millie and Obie have a run-in with a hopelessly stereotyped extreme racist cop who handcuffs them to a light pole in a parking lot as he takes off to deal with other matters. This leads to a bit that would more appropriate in a Will Ferrell comedy in which Berry and Craig try out their best physical comedy as they get wrapped up in each other trying to get loose from the pole. All of this taking place as L.A. is burning down and chaos envelops the city. It’s awkwardly painful to watch.
Whatever points the writer-director is trying to make are completely drowned out in this indescribable mess, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival ib Septembe rand will be released Friday by the Orchard. Berry and Craig’s names should draw the initially curious, but word-of-mouth will be lethal. I lived through those riots and, because I was working on Arsenio Hall’s show at the time, was involved in doing an episode trying to calm things down. I drove right through the middle of it afterward. I was looking forward to seeing this film’s take on a very dangerous time that would seem more pertinent now, 25 years later, than ever as the racial tensions that sparked this kind of outbreak are still happening all over the country. The timing is right for a film like Kings, just not this one. Producers are Charles Gillibert and Vincent Maraval.
Do you plan to see Kings? Let us know what you think.