Every year, there seems to be at least one crime drama that's well executed, but fills itself with so many cliches and recycled characters that it's hard to get involved. This year, that movie is Takers. Considering the film was not screened for critics, it's much better than I was expecting. It moves well, it's never boring, and there are a couple good action sequences. But the movie can't escape the fact that there's not a single ounce of original or creative thinking in the plotting, dialogue, or the characters.
The movie uses a dual plot device, where we get to look at the lives of people on both sides of the law. It's a gimmick that was used brilliantly in Michael Mann's 1995 classic Heat, but doesn't quite have the same effect here. On the wrong side of the law, we have five slick thieves who pull off a bank robbery with ingenious careful planning. They're upper class robbers for the most part. When they're not planning their next heist, they're in fancy clubs, sipping champagne, and discussing offshore investments. The group includes team leader Gordon (Idris Alba), brothers Jake and Jesse (Michael Ealy and Chris Brown), Gordon's closest friend John (Paul Walker), and team strategist A.J. (Hayden Christensen). Their latest bank job catches the attention of a pair of cops - A glowering loner named Welles (Matt Dillon) and his young partner, Eddie (Jay Hernandez). The two, Welles in particular, become obsessed with tracking down the elusive gang.
Of the two plotlines, the criminals definitely get the most screen time and characterizations. The movie only faintly touches on the investigation that Welles and Eddie personally undertake. The plot kicks in when the criminals are approached by a former member named Ghost (rapper Tip "T.I." Harris), who has just gotten out of prison, and has a risky new job for them to take. He has a plan for an armored car heist, with all the details worked out thanks to some Russian criminals he has ties with. The gang members are nervous about taking the job so soon after their last heist, but Gordon agrees to it, and plans are hastily set into motion. From there, we can expect that the best-laid plans will go wrong, close ties will be broken, and most of the leading cast will be dead by the time the end credits come.
Takers does not disappoint, and pretty much checks off every expectation and cliche as it goes along, almost like the four credited screenwriters made a list of what kind of scenes to include in the script beforehand. I don't expect every movie I see to be a new experience, but this one outright steals from much better films, and doesn't even attempt to hide it. There are some effective touches here and there. Director John Luessenhop knows how to stage an impressive action sequence, and gets to show it during a very lengthy chase sequence that starts in a subway station, goes up onto the streets, through multiple floors of an office building, and onto the rooftops and balconies. There's also a subplot concerning Gordon's drug-addicted sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), which helps humanize the character, but would have been even more successful if it did not seem to be thrown into the plot at random.
There are actually a lot of characters who seem to be thrown in at random, yet the script has no idea what to do with them. One of them is Zoe Saldana (Avatar), who shows up as a woman dating one of the criminals, but never really gets a scene to make any sort of impression. We also get a bizarre scene with tough cop Welles having family problems with his young daughter, since he's too obsessed with the case to pay much attention to her. The movie makes a big deal out of this for about 10 minutes or so, then we never see the daughter ever again, nor is she spoken of. There's a sloppiness to the screenplay, with so many characters either failing to make the slightest impression, or simply coming and going from the story at random. It gives Takers a highly uneven tone, which it never recovers from.
I must take this time to question the studio's decision to edit this film down to a PG-13. This is a very violent adult-themed movie, and it's distracting to see the obviously edited sequences that are obviously supposed to be much harsher. Maybe they thought with music talent in their cast, they wanted teens to be able to see it. Still, this is a movie for adults, and should be marketed as such.
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