'Takers' Surprisingly Fun Under Glossy Façade
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
Watching "Takers," a heist movie that posits itself as a "Heat" for the post-Pacino generation, is like flipping through an issue of Gentlemen's Quarterly. All forms of male glamour, fantastical toys and natty menswear are covered. I lost track of the big picture, like who dies in which hail of bullets and who doesn't, and what that might signify (very little, actually), but director John Luessenhop excels at leaving his audience with more superficial impressions. Mine include: Hayden Christensen looks adorable in a fedora, Idris Elba rocks tight underwear and Chris Brown, clad in sportswear, can take a licking (the irony!) and keep on ticking.
All three men are part of an elite group of five bank robbers, civilized enough to give 10 percent of their take to their favorite charities after each heist. The movie opens with a $2 million-plus job at a downtown Los Angeles bank that seems very neatly executed until you stop to ponder that the plan relied on the arrival of a news helicopter at precisely the right moment. Hardly a foolproof getaway, although the two cops arriving on the scene, Jack (Matt Dillon) and Eddie (Jay Hernandez), admire their handiwork. "They were hot, no doubt about that," Jack reflects.
In between jobs, the gentlemen repair discreetly to their various corners to enjoy the fruits of their labors. For A.J. (Christensen), that means romantically tinkling the ivories, talking tough like Bogie and having a smoke. For Jake (Michael Ealy) it's giving his girlfriend (Zoe Saldana) a big diamond ring. His younger brother Jesse (Brown) fondles the cash. Gordon (Elba) calls his crackhead sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and promises to take her to the Caribbean as soon as she gets out of rehab. John (Paul Walker) is more of a traditionalist; he has a threesome in his infinity pool. (On another note: Jesse, John, Jake and A.J? Are these criminals or the Duggars?)
Then an old friend intrudes. Ghost (Tip "T.I." Harris) was part of the gang until he bungled a job in 2004 and landed in jail. He's just gotten out and proposes that they pull an "Italian Job" together, one last haul for old times' sake. He's got the dispatch route and times for an armored truck service. $20 million is theirs for the taking. It's a wise idea to never trust anyone who says, of Genghis Khan, "one of my heroes," but who are our boys to resist? As Gordon says, 'We're takers, gents. That's what we do for a living: We take."
Luessenhop co-wrote the script with three others, so there's no way of knowing if he can take credit for that elegant line specifically, but certainly in his direction, he often takes a similarly helpful, let-me-spell-that-out-for-you approach. When Gordon and Jack, who are starting to piece together the connections between the robbers, pass within a few feet in a police station without seeing each other, he puts the scene in slow motion, just to make sure we get that they were this close. During every shootout in which someone dies, there's an agonizingly slow shot of the doomed person flying through the air while some operatic bit of string music thunders through the theater, announcing that their end is near. Unfortunately, the same need for clarity doesn't apply to explosions or chases sequences, which are so choppily edited as to make them impossible to follow. Chris Brown leads Jack and Eddie on a romp through downtown Los Angeles that involves him getting hit by, or landing on top of, at least 10 cars. He keeps getting to his feet, again and again, until you're longing for Luessenhop to cut to the end result -- carcass or what have you -- immediately.
But as long as you understand exactly what kind of hack cinema you are getting into, "Takers" can be pretty fun. It's the kind of movie where Russian thugs speak only one intelligible word -- "wodka" -- and someone says, approvingly, "now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout" when something goes boom. Within these limited parameters, the actors acquit themselves well enough. Jean-Baptiste, an Oscar nominee for "Secrets and Lies," and Elba are quite good together. Dillon is only serviceable (a rarity for him), but that might be because the part, as written, seems exactly like the kind of lame part the character of Johnny Drama (who is played by Matt's real-life brother Kevin Dillon) might read for in "Entourage." Johnny Drama would be desperate to be in a movie like "Takers," actually. That should tell you something.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/ Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.