August 26, 2010

Takers

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Takers

THRILLER:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-08-27

Running Length:

1:47

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Paul Walker, Idris Elba, Tip 'T.I.' Harris, Matt Dillon, Jay Hernandez, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Zoe Saldana

Director:

John Luessenhop

Screenplay:

Peter Allen & Gabriel Casseus and John Luessenhop & Avery Duff

Cinematography:

Michael Barrett

Music:

Paul Haslinger

U.S. Distributor:

Screen Gems

Subtitles:

none


Takers is a standard-order heist flick that stays mostly true to its B-movie roots until the end, when director John Luessenhop attempts to inject a little seriousness (there's some slow-motion and even an operatic score) into an otherwise unpretentious endeavor. The production is slick and fast-paced, dropping in bits and pieces of exposition along the way without slowing things down too much. The style feels a little like that of the recently departed TV show 24, albeit without Kiefer Sutherland, the split screens, and the ticking clock. Takers is an entertaining throw-away - fun but ultimately unmemorable. It's hard to imagine anyone who sees the movie not being at least moderately engaged.

In what may be a mistake, the story elects to focus not only on the group of criminals planning the heist, but on the pair of cops attempting to head them off and take them down. I write "mistake" because, as everyone knows, the most entertaining aspect of any entry into this sub-genre is the planning and execution of the crime. Spending an inordinate amount of time with the police detracts from the central pleasure of the heist. The screenwriters flesh out the cop characters by giving them families and backstories, but it ultimately seems superfluous. The film slows down every time the scene shifts from the "bad" guys to the "good" guys.

The Takers are a group of five bank robbers: John (Paul Walker), Gordon (Idris Elba), A.J. (Hayden Christensen), and brothers Jesse (Chris Brown) and Jake (Michael Ealy). They specialize in elaborate schemes that involve high paydays. The stakes go up when a former compatriot, Ghost (Tip 'T.I.' Harris), is released from prison and comes to his old buddies with a plan for a major score against an armored car. With $$ signs in his eyes, Ghost isn't taking "no" for an answer; John and Gordon are suspicious, but not suspicious enough to refuse the bait. $25 million is a lot to turn down. Meanwhile, a pair of cops, Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez), are on the criminals' trail, but they're more than two steps behind. And, with Internal Affairs breathing down Jack's neck, the possibility exists that he'll be taken off the case before he can make the bust. But Jack soldiers on with an almost self-destructive obsession, even putting his young daughter in danger at one point. It seems destined that the fates of the Takers, Ghost, and the police will collide somewhere in the streets of Los Angeles.

To comprise his cast, Luessenhop has picked performers from three groups: those who have screen experience but are below the radar (Idris Elba, Matt Dillon), those who are commonly viewed as "has beens" (Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen), and those who are moonlighting from the music business (Chris Brown, T.I.). It's easy to tell the actors, even those who don't come with impressive resumes, from the wannabes. Dillon invests his character with the depth and believability of a tortured soul who wants to do right but can't quite control himself. Walker has a suave, smooth delivery. And (in a small role) Zoe Saldana exudes sexuality (she must have accepted this role before hitting it big with 2009's twosome of Star Trek and Avatar). On the other hand, Chris Brown gives a one-note portrayal (although an extended chase sequence makes us believe his character is wearing an "S" under his clothing) and T.I. wavers between being serpentine and wooden. He's not the most convincing or menacing villain.

Takers provides most of the characters little subplots. Gordon is caring for an older sister who's in rehab. Jesse and Jake are looking after each other. Jack's life is falling apart and he can't get his priorities straight. Eddie has money problems. None of this amounts to much, but the details at least present a more colorful canvas. The caper is under-represented, with surprisingly little time devoted to its preparation and execution. There's plenty of action, especially late in the proceedings, but Luessenhop makes sure there are enough punctuation marks in the first two acts for viewers with short attention spans not to lose interest. Takers' 107 minutes move swiftly and goes down smoothly. The ending is a bit too grim and borderline-pretentious for a movie of this sort, but for as long as it stays close to the basics of the genre, it's not a bad way to spend an evening.

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