An unpretentious timewaster

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly

Ten percent to the usual charities?” I love a line like that, smack in the middle of a scene featuring bank robbers dividing up the spoils. It proves they’re good guys at heart, willing to spread it around (if only for the sake of appearances) while blowing the rest on bling, ladies, threads, cars and bling. Oh, and bling.


The line comes from the frantic, moderately entertaining heist picture Takers, set in Los Angeles and featuring characters who reference by name both Genghis Khan and The Italian Job. Top-billed Matt Dillon brings stoic professionalism to the role of an LAPD detective who does not have time for his daughter because he’s chasing a quintet of stylish hoodlums. They’ve been persuaded by a former colleague, just out of the clink, to blow up part of a downtown LA street, boost an armored truck’s worth of banknotes, and get busy with the fruits of their labor.

A heist film depends on the quality of its heist (duh), and the one we get here is like Takers itself: noisy, unsubtle, but it gets the job done. The movie becomes exponentially more interesting the minute things start going haywire in this key scene, forcing the criminals to improvise. A little later, in the film’s surefire set piece, the junior member of the team, played by Chris Brown, eludes the cops in a chase through the downtown LA cement chunk known as Pershing Park. Clearly jacked up on the Bourne pictures and the parkour scene in Casino Royale, Brown rolls on and off car hoods, jumps fences and never stops for anything. Director John Luessenhop’s camera bobs and weaves, and editor Armen Minasian cuts the sequence like a slasher on uppers. You almost can’t tell what’s going on. But the preview audience loved it, just as they whooped at the shot of Idris Elba (The Wire) in his briefs. A movie such as Takers isn’t reinventing anyone’s wheel. It’s simply spinning the wheel as quickly as possible.

Does crime pay in this story? Well, that’s a rather old-fashioned moralistic question, don’t you think? It pays really well for some and not at all for others. If there’s a lesson in the many-hands screenplay, it’s this: Do not trust Russians, in any context. The movie can’t get enough of wordless shots of men on balconies backed by a sunrise, or a sunset, or the lights of the city. Some of the performers in Takers can really act, Elba most notably. Others, such as rapper-turned-actor Tip “T.I.” Harris, who plays the combustible con known as Ghost, are getting there. But at least he’s relaxed on screen.

The way this film is shot, nothing happens in “real” space. The director perpetually frames the action in a telephoto-type depth of field, so that the actors and the cars and the guns become one disorienting mass of quicksilver. I longed for some visual relief after a while. But what makes Takers better than average for its genre is its lack of snark.

Violent as it is for a PG-13 film, it offers only a modicum of the facetious brutality littering a Guy Ritchie crime picture such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (or for that matter, his recent, egregious Sherlock Holmes). Takers is an unpretentious timewaster. And I rather liked it.

—MCT, Tribune Media Respond: