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No, you can leave this one: “Takers”

December 11, 2010

Chris Brown deserves to be thrown off a bridge. He deserves to be blown up in a hyperbaric tank like that dude in License to Kill. He deserves to be fed to water monitors–small ones, adolescents—who will tear out his intestines and play tug-of-war with them, while the whole thing is broadcast internationally, so that all of us normal joes who work hard, pay our taxes, and don’t beat the holy living fuck out of Rihanna can watch and raise a glass and discuss what a little bitch he is when set upon by hungry reptiles. Appearing in Takers isn’t quite a comparable punishment, but it’s not going to make anyone forget that he beat a gorgeous woman so badly she looked like last night’s sirloin steak either. Call it a draw.

Okay, but before we get into Takers as a Chris Brown-rehabilitation project, let’s talk about it as a movie. It’s a crappy movie. More specifically, it’s a crappy heist movie. Takers follows a crew of professional bank robbers who, apparently, met in a GQ ad for brandy or something. You got Jesse (Brown) the sensitive one; his brother Jake (Michael Ealy) who’s the sensitive one with the hot girlfriend (Zoe Saldana); AJ (Hayden Christensen), a jazz pianist whose defining characteristic is his porkpie hat; John (Paul Walker), and Cozier (Idris Elba) who along with John are the groups nominal leaders by virtue of the fact they have more brains than your average ring-tailed lemur and are played by competent actors.

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“Well, someone’s gotta be the grown up around here…”

The movie begins with the crew knocking over a bank in an LA high-rise. Everything goes perfectly in the way that only a heist scripted by a screenwriter who knows nothing about actual bank robbers can go (they make off in a hijacked news helicopter, if you can swallow that). They then, as near as I can tell, spend the next couple days living out a high-end fashion commercial as they strut around in immaculate suits and hang out in Jake and Jesse’s improbably well-appointed pad. Alas, trouble is a-brewing on two fronts.

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“Don’t look back it! Never look at the explosion.”

One takes the form of cop-on-the-edge Jake (Matt Dillon), who takes a personal interest in this case for no discernible reason. The other cloud in their blue sky is the release of an old partner named Ghost (Tip “T.I.” Harris, as he’s credited…chose whatever name you want).  Ghost took a bullet in a heist gone wrong six years earlier and spent the ensuing years in the joint. The Takers (yeah, I guess we’ll call them that) have his money squirreled away for him, as per their agreement, but they’re still hinked by the possibility that Ghost will rat them out the moment he gets his money (which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it, but neither does anything else in the movie). Further gumming things up is the fact that Ghost used to be involved with Zoe before he got popped.

Ghost, however, approaches them with a new plan—and armored car heist that will nab them a massive pile of money. The Takers mull it over, but decide to do it anyway. The middle chunk of the film follows them as they prepare for the big job. In the meantime, Jack is getting closer and closer. They also pad this part out with some largely unnecessary subplots concerning Cozier’s junkie sister and Jack’s IAD investigation. These nominally inform the rest of the story’s action, but don’t really pay dividends.

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“Sorry, I wasn’t laughing at you. I was just thinking of…uh…an old Friends episode.”

So, they pull off the armored car job, but it doesn’t go precisely flawlessly (the second job in heist movies never do, do they?)  Making matters worse, Ghost set them up with Russian gangsters, who descend upon the Takers, resulting in one of the most ludicrous shootouts 2010 has yet presented us with.  AJ is killed in the melee (after magically surviving a close-range shotgun blast to the midriff), and the Takers are scattered. From this point, it’s just a matter of everyone reaching the ends of their rope. Zoe is killed by Ghost, and Jake and Jesse go down in a blaze of…um…glory isn’t quite the right word here…truly terrible cinematography is a bit closer to the mark. Ghost, Jack, and Cozier have a three-way standoff straight out of Reservoir Dogs that ends with Ghost dead, a wounded Cozier and unscathed John riding into the night, and Jack injured (shot in either the stomach or the leg, depending upon the scene) calling 911, saying over and over “I need help” (which we can probably safely take to refer to his career).

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“I’m just gonna hang out here until the next Fast & Furious movie.”

Takers could have been pulpy fun if director John Luessenhop and the stew of writers credited with the screenplay were at all good at their jobs. As it is, they’re more interested in parading their characters in designer suits than telling a coherent story. There’s no realism in the heists. The look cobbled together from Heat, The Italian Job, and whatever other, better heist films the guys could fit in their Netflix queue. There’s no logic in them, though. Luessenhop just figures if he shows the guys using explosives and M4 rifles, we’ll overlook niggling little facts like how they let the guy with the foreign accent do all the talking during the bank robbery.  Sure, no one will remember that. Likewise, it’s very convenient that the armored car’s route over an empty bit of unused subway tunnel that the Takers can get into and drill out for three days without anyone noticing. It’s also apparently dead simple to control LA traffic signals.

Luessenhop also doesn’t have much of a sense of action sequences, either. Brown leads the cops on a seemingly-endless foot chase—complete with parkour—in which he his hit by no fewer than five cars, leaps six stories onto a car, and walks away without even a sprain. The idiotic gunfight with the Russians is shot all arty-style with the gunshots muted to dull thumps, and the dialogue clear and coherent (when in reality, small arms fire in an enclosed space would have left them all deaf).

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Because all your high-end couches are bulletproof…

The acting’s pretty uneven. Elba is fine (nice to see him reigning it in after his regular overacting in the ludicrous Luther), and both Walker and Dillon are fine, but have so little to work with they don’t leave much of an impression. The rest of the cast, however, pretty much sucks on toast. Really. The sheer depth of the acting incompetence is so vast that the actors are visibly struggling to remember their lines in some scenes. And someone should have told Tip “TI” Whatever-the-hell-else that acting does not mean delivering your dialogue in one uninterrupted sentence while swaying like a cobra charmer.

Also, it further deepens the mystery of what George Lucas saw in Hayden Christensen that made him put a huge chunk of his Star Wars franchise in the guy’s hands. Not only does he have precisely two modes of acting (smarm and insufferably smug smarm), but he looks…well, he looks like The Joker whenever he wears his flesh-covered makeup. Precisely how many dudes did George audition anyway?

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“Hey baby, I was in the Prequel Trilogy. Does that make you hot? Where are you going?”

Finally, as part of Brown’s rehabilitation project, it’s a bust. Jesse is kind and quiet and sensitive, and the movie gives him what Luessenhop must have thought was a heroic death, but his character is otherwise a nonentity, and Brown is completely forgettable in the role. He doesn’t wear a stupid bow-tie/sweater combo, but it’s never far from the viewer’s mind. Sorry, Chris, but no matter how hard you try you’re always going to be the shitbag who beat the hell out of Rihanna. And that’s the punishment you’ve earned.

At least until I finish training the local water monitors.


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