Sunday, June 19, 2011


Matt Dillon is apparently trying to become the king of the crappy heist movie.  Not even a calendar year after he starred in the armored car heist flick, Armored, he co-stars in Takers, which focuses on --- you guessed it --- an armored car heist.  Congrats, Dillon, in finding the least entertaining robbery scripts in Hollywood.

A group of friends --- Gordon (Idris Elba), John (Paul Walker), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), and brothers Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) --- work together once a year to pull off a daring bank robbery to finance their ridiculously high-rolling lifestyles.  Seriously, these guys have some really, really nice stuff.  After their most recent job, which was pulled off flawlessly and without firing a shot, the group is ready to lay low for a while before they get together and start planning their next heist.  That's when Ghost (Tip "T.I." Harris) shows up and makes everybody feel awkward; Ghost just got out of prison after serving time for getting caught during one of the crew's old robberies.  He never told the police anything about the others and they, in turn, kept his four million dollars safely invested.  One day out of prison, though, and Ghost has a high-risk, high-reward robbery lined up --- he has the delivery route for a pair of armored cars that are carrying upwards of twenty-five million dollars.  To put that in perspective, in the robbery that opens the film, they got away with about two million.  The plan is very risky, and the fact that Ghost has the plan so soon is suspicious, but the real issue is that this is a one-time offer, because the armored cars are doing that route in only five days.  What do they do?  Well, in the words of Gordon, "We're takers, gents. That's what we do for a living. We take."  That doesn't sound trite at all.

They have the whole "walk slowly away from the explosion" bit down pat.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the supposedly perfect robbery from the beginning of the movie was not entirely perfect.  The stereotypically obsessed with his job (and, therefore, not his daughter) Detective Welles (Matt Dillon) takes the robbery personally, for some reason.  Maybe it's because he likes a challenge, or maybe the easily identifiable salute given by Jesse (while masked) to the security camera rubbed him the wrong way.  Whatever the reason, Welles winds up following a string of highly coincidental and circumstantial evidence that leads him to the crew, as they plan the armored truck job.  Will he be able to out-think the thinkers on this one?

That's an interesting angle to take with any sort of robbery story.  Generally speaking, the stories are told from the perspective of the thief, so the audience naturally sympathizes with them and wants the bad guys to succeed, even though they are stealing.  Takers spends substantial amounts of time with Detective Welles and his partner as they try to crack the case.  Why?  My best guess would be a poor screenplay, but that's just a guess.

The acting in Takers is --- not surprisingly, given the cast --- not that great.  Idris Elba got to use his genuine London accent and he was given the most emotional depth in the film, but it's not enough to make his character seem smart or likable.  Paul Walker is actually the most likable character in the movie, if only because his character is pretty straightforward; Walker's acting skills are minimal, but he came off looking pretty solid here.  Michael Ealy 's character is given a few opportunities to differentiate himself from the others --- he is in love with Zoe Saldana's character --- but he doesn't do much with his chances.  Hayden Christensen didn't have to emote, so he was surprisingly not terrible here.  He did get to make some truly unfortunate faces during an action sequence, though.
Chris Brown and Tip "T.I." Harris did about as well as you might expect from professional musicians; their dialogue often sounded wooden and awkward, and they posed when not delivering their lines.  Brown provided a surprisingly entertaining parkour chase sequence, though, which certainly dwarfed his acting shortcomings.  Matt Dillon's character was pretty one-dimensional, even though we get a glimpse into his family life; he tries to be interesting, but his acting chops are not strong enough to overcome thin writing.  Jay Hernandez was similarly shallow as Dillon's partner that is obviously crooked; we find out his kid needs dialysis treatments and he has a fantastic houseon a cop's salary.  There are a handful of other recognizable actors in small roles --- Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Steve Harris, and the always slimy Johnathon Schaech --- but they are just there as minor role players, nothing spectacular about any of them.
Acting lesson 1: Paul, show me your "thinking" face.

Heist movies are not about the characters involved, usually.  The best movies in this genre are fun to watch because you get to see meticulously plan and then pull off some ridiculously convoluted and complicated robbery.  You don't want the robbers to get away because they are stealing to support their family or because they are going to fund a charity or anything else --- you root for the robbers because they are doing some cool stuff.  By splitting the focus of the story between the robbers and the police pursuing them, Takers complicates what should have been the easiest part of the story.  I'm not saying that you can't tell both sides of a cops-and-robbers tale, but you shouldn't unless you plan on actually developing your characters.  This movie has eight important characters, with recognizable actors filling in bit part roles; it's hard to tell who we're supposed to care about.  What do we learn about the three main characters?  Gordon has a sister, Detective Welles is an unintentionally crappy dad, Ghost is a petty jerk, and well, the most personal thing we learn about his character is that he enjoys poolside threesomes.  That's not enough information to actually care about any of those three, but it's tons more development than the rest of the cast gets.

The heist itself --- the armored car one --- is fairly interesting, but it's nowhere near as cool as it should be, either.  The planning stages are whirled through, with absolutely no level of difficulty.  When I finally saw what was being done, I was underwhelmed.  I was also confused.  If Ghost is potentially untrustworthy, why is he given the job with the least amount of risk and the highest probability of escape?  Whatever.  Despite the shaky hand-held camera to indicate that action was taking place, I was pretty bored by the time the heist attempt happened.  Luckily, that scene was followed by Chris Brown's extended (and mostly unnecessary) parkour sequence, which was the highlight of the film.

Takers spent a lot of time in development hell before finally coming out in the summer of 2010.  Director John Luessenhop took almost four years off the project to care for his ailing son, T.I. spent eight months in prison, and Chris Brown made the public relations mistake of beating the shit out of his girlfriend.  The movie was finally released, though, that we can all agree on.  It's just not very good.  Luessenhop doesn't develop the characters on-screen and every action sequence looks like it was filmed by someone having a seizure.  I will give credit that it appears that the actors did most of their own stunts, but they might have been more impressive if the camera had a tripod.  This isn't that bad of a movie, but it commits the greatest crime a robbery movie can make --- it's boring.

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