REVIEW: Handsome Takers is Nothing But a Stuffed Suit
Takers is a sterling example of how a movie can take a basic, appealing idea -- bank robbers who plan their infrequent crimes so meticulously they never get caught, living the high-life in between jobs -- and turn it into something that you could easily watch while brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails, plucking your eyebrows. The movie at least attempts to offer some textbook pleasures: Director John Luessenhop gives us several elaborate shoot-outs, a killer explosion here and there, even a glitzy-classy shopping montage (and you thought those were only for girly movies like Sex and the City). But Takers is so indistinguished that it starts fading from memory as soon as the end credits start rolling. It comes to the party overdressed and still fails to make an impression.
Idris Elba plays the leader, more or less, of this bunch of longtime friends who work and play hard together. Chris Brown and Michael Ealy are the brother-duo of the pack. Paul Walker is the white guy in the nice suit; Hayden Christensen is the other white guy in the nice suit (you can tell him apart from Walker by his stingy-brim fedora). Actually, everyone in Takers wears nice suits -- hence the shopping montage -- and tend to gather to discuss, in somber but devil-may-care tones, how to invest their massive wads of stolen dough so no one will detect it. ("Ten percent to the usual charities?" one of them affirms, suggesting that these do-badders aren't afraid to do good. It makes them feel more multi-dimensional, like a complex wine.) Even the guy from their ranks who just got sprung out of prison (played, in a case of art imitating life, by Tip "T.I." Harris) -- he was the only one arrested for an earlier job -- has fantastic threads. And when he comes around with a plan for (guess what?) one last heist that involves (who else?) crooked Russians, you know there's trouble brewing.
Luckily, or perhaps not, there's one figure in this scenario who wasn't born yesterday: An old-school LAPD detective -- played by a bored-looking Matt Dillon -- seems to know something's up. But what? Well, he doesn't know for sure yet, but it's something. His partner (Jay Hernandez), a sweet, principled cop who struggles to take care of his family (there are frequent references to his child's "dialysis"), is far less attuned to all those mysterious "somethings" that cops always seem to be onto, but Dillon loves him anyway.
Takers, to its credit, doesn't pretend to be original. Luessenhop (who, with Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus and Avery Duff, also worked on the script) seems to know that the whole point of a movie like this is to give us guys shooting at each other and blowing stuff up. In between such events, they hang out at swank cocktail bars and eye leggy women. In theory, what's not to love?
Then again, in a movie like Takers, what is there to love? Characters who emerge as individuals, people we can care about? A smart story that's worked out in a way that keeps us guessing? Action that's shot clearly and cleanly, so you can always tell who's where, and why? You won't find any of those things in Takers. What you will find is a picture that works hard at being stylish: Shot by Michael Barrett in cool, granular grayish tones, this is a picture that strives to look expensive, the way an H&M cocktail dress can almost -- but never quite -- look like a Lanvin original. In the picture's climactic shootout spree, Luessenhop appears to be going for Scarface-style majesty, but the whole thing just looks overblown and faux-operatic. There are a few good performances here -- the perpetually smooth Elba adds some class to the joint, and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, as his crackhead older sister, makes her stereotyped character seem like a real person.
But Zoe Saldana, who plays Michael Ealy's fiancée, is sorely underused: The movie gives her about two half-baked scenes, one in which she accepts an engagement ring (yay!) and another in which she stares, with a forlorn, worried look on her face, after an ex-boyfriend (boo hoo!). Chris Brown doesn't have much to do either, although that's a good thing: He has precisely two expressions, pouty and vacant, and even then, it's hard to tell them apart. Takers is on the whole inoffensive and harmless, and its one saving grace is that it doesn't drag on interminably: The whole thing is over before you know it -- an exercise in empty-headed style, it's almost like a two-hour commercial for itself. Maybe, today, that's what we go to the movies for. In the old days, we called those things trailers.