Using the backdrop of the 1992 L.A. riots, Turkish-French writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven takes a misstep after making her debut in 2015 with the marvelous film “Mustang.” I enjoy a good Halle Berry film more than most people and teaming her up with Daniel “007” Craig seems like a great idea, but the film falters by abandoning a consistent tone. The weighty subject matter is injected with comedy and sensuous scenes that hinder rather than alleviate the frenzied climate.
“Kings” comes to us on the 26th anniversary of the riots with a brutal opening scene that paved the way for the savagery that took place across Los Angeles. 15-year old Latasha Harlins (Quartay Denaya) is shot and killed after a Korean store owner mistakes her for a shoplifter. The high school student approached the counter, money in hand, after placing a bottle of orange juice in her backpack. The senseless killing is an example of a problem that existed long before Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the Black Lives Matter movement over two decades later. The slain teenager didn’t receive the same kind of media attention as Trayvon Martin because most of the country was still fixated on the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King.
After the film’s shocking opener, Ergüven introduces us to Millie (Halle Berry), a single parent raising eight foster kids of different races in South Central. She relies on her older son Jesse (Lamar Johnson) to help feed and get the kids ready for school each morning while she works and makes extra cash by baking cakes. Berry’s hair is on point the entire time while the Oscar-winning actress looks glamorous running around in a frenzied state. Most moms will cry “foul” at the unrealistic glamorizing of the character who is obviously meant to be the Mother Teresa of South Central, with a great weave.
Daniel Craig shows up as Obie, the only white guy that lives in Millie’s neighborhood. He’s a loud-mouthed drunk who threatens to report her to child services so of course it only makes sense that she has erotic dreams of the hot-tempered jerk (I mean he is James Bond). The sex scene between the nude actors is so out of place that it throws the film off balance. After being inundated with images of police brutality and escalating tension as the Rodney King trial is plastered on every television, Ergüven decides to alleviate the tension by throwing in a love scene between the two beautiful actors. Later in the film, the director tries to inject some comedy into the narrative by handcuffing Berry and Craig to a parking lot light pole while the looting is taking place. Of course, the only way to get out of the predicament involves Berry removing her pants.
There is one scene in the film where the humor works as Berry notices police officers attempting to arrest a black teen. She stops her car and approaches the boy pretending to be his mother. After giving him a few whacks while lecturing the teenager, she ushers him in the car and drives away before the LAPD officers can respond.
“Kings” suffers from inconsistency by trying too hard to be many things. It could use a good edit but even then we would still be left with a chic Halle Berry and a charismatic Daniel Craig who shouldn’t be so appealing in such a heavy drama. How about throwing them in a remake of “Romancing the Stone?” Deniz Gamze Ergüven proved herself as a viable filmmaker with the Oscar-nominated “Mustang” so maybe the experience of working with the two A-list actors proved to be an intimidating experience. The miscalculations detract from the obvious powerful message of a film that revisits a turbulent event in American history.