Bang-bang story needs more heat
By John Anderson
Friday, August 27, 2010
It's not quite clear during the opening moments of the gun-crazy, chase-happy "Takers" whether director John Luessenhop is trying to reinvent the heist movie or searching for the Holy Grail -- i.e., a hetero-male version of "Sex and the City": luxurious clothes, hipster cars, fat cigars, big guns (of course), women as drapery -- you know, all the cool stuff, shot like porn.
But after its brief attempt at being a homicidal "Entourage," "Takers" eventually settles into a caper-flick groove, largely because it takes its cues from some far superior films, namely "Oceans 11/12/13" and Michael Mann's "Heat."
Like the George Clooney/Brad Pitt crime comedies, "Takers" assembles a group of suave, handsome, vaguely funny and chronically dysfunctional criminals who join forces to make a big killing. Like "Heat," it begins with one crime, a bank robbery, and builds up to another, the seizing of an armored car carrying $30 million, which will be accomplished by blowing up an entire Los Angeles intersection. In between, the movie puts its equally sympathetic cops and robbers in parallel motion toward a cataclysmic collision, but not before making them Real Human Beings.
Everybody has personal problems. Gang leader Gordon (the supremely charismatic Idris Elba) has to choreograph the big score while trying to keep his reprobate sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) in rehab. He's also trying to dismiss some nagging doubts about Ghost (rapper T.I.), a former member of the robbery gang who took the rap before, served six years in prison and is back, carrying an outsize chip on his shoulder.
On the other side of the criminal-justice aisle, Detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) neglects his young daughter while obsessively trying to piece together a mosaic of clues that don't quite seem to connect Gordon to the gun-toting Jake (Michael Ealy) or the strategist Johnny (Paul Walker) or the useless Jesse (Chris Brown) or Rat-Pack wannabe A.J. (Hayden Christensen), or any of them to the bank robbery that opened the movie. Meanwhile, Jack's partner, Eddie (Jay Hernandez), is being scrutinized by Internal Affairs; Ghost is simmering because his old girlfriend Rachel (Zoe Saldana) has taken up with Jake. The Russian mobsters who provided Ghost with the info on the armored car are saying nyet, nyet, nyet. The whole thing is a soap opera, but with much bigger bullets.
Fortunately the melodramatic aspects of "Takers" ("We're all takers," murmurs Gordon. "It's what we do.") are good, because otherwise the movie would be pure muddle. Luessenhop and his antic camera are after a kineticism that eludes them: He shoots too closely; he's practically crawling up his characters' nostrils with his unhinged camera. Sometimes there's no center of gravity at all, so all that motion is rendered meaningless: To get a vicarious thrill, you have to at least know where you are.
It's up to the actors to provide the traction, and that's a mixed bag. Elba and Dillon are solidly engaging and, at the risk of dwelling on "Heat," do the same thing De Niro and Pacino did: hold up opposite ends of a movie in which they barely come into contact. The rest of the casting is more about marketing than drama. T.I. and Brown, aiming to join the estimable ranks of rappers-turned-actors (can we call them raptors?) turn in passable performances. T.I.'s is one-note but memorable; Brown's is all but forgettable save for a prolonged chase scene that grows tiresome long before it's over. Walker and Saldana don't have enough to do. Christensen is like part of the plumbing.
What this shoot-'em-up could have used was more complexity in its storytelling: Compared with some of the better-known titles in the genre ("Riffifi," "Topkapi," "The Asphalt Jungle"), "Takers" is strictly smash-and-grab. It could have used fewer people, too, or at least fewer poses: A story this thin can only prop up so much 'tude.
Contains adult content, violence and vulgarity.