A film review by Craig J. Koban September 8, 2010


2010, PG-13, 116 mins.


Matt Dillon: Det. Jack Welles / Paul Walker: John Rahway / Idris Elba: Gordon Jennings / Jay Hernandez: Eddie Hatcher / Michael Ealy: Jake Attica / Tip "T.I." Harris: Ghost / Chris Brown: Jesse Attica / Hayden Christensen: A.J.

Directed by John Luessenhop/ written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, Luessenhop and Avery Duff

Note to the screenwriters of TAKERS:  The heist film is only as good as…well…its heist.  

The main problem with this B-grade, unmemorable, cheaply assembled and disposable Poor Man’s HEAT is that it focuses a stubbornly limited amount of screen time on the planning and execution of its main heist.  It is here where most of the pleasure of these types of genre films begins, but TAKERS seems more interested in focusing on lame and cliché-ridden subplots involving a pair of morally questionable and tortured cop figures than it does on the “big score” itself.  That’s ultimately counterproductive and disappointing, mostly because there are some decent performers here that do stellar jobs of infusing some class and soul into the lackluster proceedings.  Seriously, is this the best that four – count ‘em, four ­– writers could muster?

The actual money heist in the film is also totally preposterous.  It involves the crew underground in a sewer, some meticulously planted C4, an above-ground lookout, and a perfectly timed explosion directly under a money-filled armored car, which has been flawlessly routed to be in place under the explosive charge in the middle of afternoon traffic in a big city.  Now, I am willing to suspend my disbelief with the best of them, but how does the crew know that the C4 would not just blow the car to smithereens?  Furthermore, a massive explosion in a heavily populated downtown street during mid-day does not seem like a truly clandestine operation.  Wouldn’t it have been…I dunno…easier for the gang to shadow the car, pull it over in the least populated and low traffic side street, and just take it over with numbers and firearms?   

Perhaps this is why TAKERS spins its wheels more on watered down and oversimplified character arcs and relationships than it does with the heist itself, seeing as the heist does not feel remotely plausible.  Nonetheless, here’s the plot:  The “Takers” in question are a quintet of exceedingly well-tailored bank robbers consisting of the usually stock types.  There is the cool, calm, and collected leader of the pack, Gordon (Idris Elba); the bagman, John (Paul Walker); the planner, A.J. (Hayden Christenson); and two brothers, Jesse (Chris Brown) and Jake (Michael Ealy), the runner and the main gunman respectively.  The group has just successful achieved their last big payday robbery when they receive an impromptu visit from a former colleague named “Ghost” (Tip T.I. Harris) that has just been released from the slammer and comes to his old buddies with a “never-can fail, too-good-to-be-true” plan for a major score on an armored car.  Many in the group are dubious of the plan, to say the least, especially since most of them can’t trust Ghost, but more because planning and executing the score must occur within a scant five days.  However, the huge payout of nearly $30 million is pretty enticing, so the group keeps their eyes on Ghost because it certainly appears that he has ulterior motives:  It was Ghost that took the rap during one of the groups' robberies five years ago and, to make matters more awkward, his former flame (the characteristically sexy Zoe Saldana) hooked up Jake during Ghost’s incarceration. 

The other group of “men” in the film are the cops that are hot on the Takers’ trails.  They are Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and his younger partner, Eddie (Jay Hernandez) and these characters play up to several of the more perfunctory conventions of  police characters:  Jack struggles with being a good father to his young daughter because the call of duty always keeps him at a distance.  On top of that, his super hot temper and lack of decorum with suspects makes him an easy target for Internal Affairs, which subsequently might lead to him being taken off the case right before he blows it wide open.  Yet, Jack continues on with a near zealot-like obsession, bringing along his partner for the ride.  Eddie has his own issues: his wife has just been laid off and he has a huge mortgage and is in dire financial trouble.  Hmmmm…you do not have to be Nostradamus to precisely predict where his character arc is headed, especially since it's tipped off very, very early in the film in a not-so-subtle fashion. 

On the upbeat,  TAKERS is a fairly well paced cops and robbers effort that is rarely boring.  The director,  John Luessenhop, keeps everything buoyantly afloat for the near two hour running time.  He's also able to bolster some very fine performance from his actors, who help to elevate the film and the script above its mournfully routine elements.  Matt Dillon, an undervalued character actor, brings a low-key, teeth-clenched desperation and world-weariness to his fanatical cop (a lesser actor would have overplayed the role, but Dillon knows how to dial in Jack’s frustration and rage with a real affinity).  I also liked Idris Elba as the Takers leader, who exudes a real urbane charm alongside a tough as nails magnetism to his role.  TAKERS is on solid footing when these two actors appear on screen.  The rest of the actors in question are more like props than fully realized and three-dimensional personas.  Zoe Saldana in particular is given a very marginal and ill-defined role as the one-note love interest, which is odd seeing how her current stock as a star has escalated as of late; she's barely in the film, which is regrettable.

Unfortunately, for as good and seasoned as Dillon and Elba are in their respective roles, they are not enough to excuse the way TAKERS wallows in oversimplified and highly derivative plot developments, which rarely, if ever, strain away from the standard order heist pictures we have seen countless times before.  Some of the subplots feel like regurgitated leftovers from other better genre films: the ones involving Dillon’s inability to be a paternal figure to his daughter wreaks of overt familiarity, as does a terribly predictable subplot involving his partner.  Then there is also a key subplot involving Elba’s drug addicted sister - in and out of rehab - that is peppered into the overall narrative in hopes of humanizing Elba’s criminal, but it's more or less used as a mechanism to propel the plot later on.  Too much of these aspects of the narrative feel more like throwaway elements than substantial investments. 

Then there is the filming and editing of some of the action sequences within the film, and there is one key sequence that could have been an adrenaline-induced spectacle, but instead is reduced to a lot of messy visual noise.  In the scene Brown’s limber and gravity defying crook eludes the police on very lengthy section of downtown L.A. where he runs, climbs, flies, summersaults, rolls, and hurtles himself through the tiniest of barriers that would make the action heroes of DISTRICT B:13 jealous.  Here’s the problem:  Luessenhop and his cinematographer (Michael Barrett) lamentably shoot the entire scene with frustratingly hyperactive and queasy camera moves to the point where shots cannot sit still more than a second at a time.  Combined with that is editing that hatchets the sequence into so many microscopic chunks that it all but erases spatial clarity, which results in a would-be exhilarating scene being reduced to a spastic and jumbled nightmare.  Again, I dare to ask, when did filmmakers decide that frantically moving the camera without a care in the world and editing with a pace to induce vomiting was the best way to relay action on screen?  I...am...getting...really tired of this. 

TAKERS has a lot of other issues too, like some really hammy and unintentionally hilarious dialogue (I especially liked when one of the robbers deadpans that “10 per cent” of their loot from one score will go to the “usual charities”) and the climax of the film that ends with an unsatisfying sense of closure (it’s okay for endings to be ambiguous and leave you guessing, but the one here feels like it's finished mid-scene and is too jarringly incomplete).  TAKERS is not a bad heist film, just a highly unoriginal one that does not warrant a trip to the cineplexes.  It’s never dull, has a crew of appealing and charming actors dressed to the nines and looking good, and it spins its wheels with a reasonable proficiency.  The problem is that it spins its wheels a bit too leisurely and predictably, not to mention that it places less prominence on the development, build up, and execution of its heist than it should.

  H O M E