Monday, August 30, 2010


Genre movies are all about variations on a theme. The good ones make a familiar formula feel fresh, finding the poetry in some combination of the movie’s key elements (performances, plot, camera work, choreography, dialogue, art direction, sound, etc.) I’m thinking of recent films like Inside Man, Next Day Air, and The Italian Job, probably because they’re all quoted heavily – sometimes even by name – in Takers.

Unfortunately, stealing doesn’t always work even if you choose your sources well. Sometimes you just end up with a sleek so-what like this heavily processed mashup of played-out movie conventions and self-conscious cool.

Takers keeps crosscutting between two sets of protagonists: a group of criminals planning an elaborate heist and two cops trying to stop them. The filmmakers want us to sympathize with them all, but rather than trust the wide streak of empathy/outlaw envy that nearly always makes us root for the thieves in movies like this, they pile on contrived complications. There’s the drug-addicted sister who Gordon (Idris Elba, his native English accent fading in and out) wants to set up back home in the Caribbean, so she can dry out in peace. Or the girlfriend (a barely-there Zoe Saldana, reduced to a minor plot point) another member of the gang plans to marry, rescuing her from Ghost (Atlanta rapper T.I.), her glowering ex.

Ghost has just rejoined the gang after a stint in prison. Boiling with resentment over what he sees as his partners’ betrayal, he sets up the Italian Job-style job that takes up most of the movie’s running time. The others are too greedy to pass up the gig, though it’s such a bad idea that they – and the movie – lose credibility as soon as they say yes.

Meanwhile, the workaholic Jack (Matt Dillon) and his laid-back partner Eddie (Jay Hernandez) cope with the usual movie-cop problems. Jack, who investigates cases too intensely and interrogates informants too roughly, is separated from his wife, ducking his bosses, and constantly disappointing his young daughter. Eddie is happily married, but his sick kid and unemployed wife are putting him under financial pressure, which he deals with just the way I expected him to.

The fight scenes are filmed with that jerky/blurry look and too-close camera that so many filmmakers favor these days, which make impossible to tell what people are doing and where they are in relation to each other or their environment. I found that particularly annoying during a chase on foot that involved a lot of parkour, which would have been a lot more fun to watch if we'd seen the landscape the lead runner was operating in and felt the logic behind the split-second decisions he made as he navigated it. Instead, I wondered why on earth he went feet-first through the little window at the top of a door when he could have just pushed it open and run through – or could he?

That kind of thing wouldn’t matter so much if there were something else to hold our interest, but Takers is all about the thrill of watching its thieves live large and die in slow motion, and most of that is portrayed in numbingly paint-by-numbers fashion. Always decked out in expensive-looking suits or the latest hipster chic, the “takers” sip $100-plus-a-bottle scotch (the camera even lingers on the label at one point), lounge around the swanky nightclub they apparently own, or disappear behind rosewood security doors into houses with infinity pools and killer views. If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s plenty of prime beefcake to ogle (the women sitting next to me moaned when Elba stepped out of bed and toward the camera in nothing but skin-tight briefs). And, of course, there are lots of fast cars and bikes and choppers, gun battles, explosions, and pumped-up music and aerial shots to amp up the intensity meter. Our boys even do a slo-mo group stroll at one point, heading toward the camera and away from the explosion they’ve rigged to go off as they walk.

There are a few flashes of genuine style, but for the most part it feels about as lifeless as an airbrushed photo in a second-rate fashion magazine.

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