Movie Review: Takers
By Matthew Huntley
September 8, 2010

He can't even fake shoot a gun well.

Takers couldn’t be a more appropriate title for this slick but ultimately derivative heist picture. It literally “takes” so much from other movies you wonder if the filmmakers’ real agenda was to show how much Hollywood recycles itself.

But I doubt anybody involved in this movie was thinking that hard, which is not to say they weren’t working hard. This may not be a deep or involving crime story, but it’s a stylish, fast-paced action drama nonetheless. That’s enough to make it entertaining, but not much else.

In the tradition of most heist movies, Takers follows a group of too cool, fancy suit-wearing bank robbers out to make one final score. In no particular order, they are: Gordon (Idris Elba); John (Paul Walker); Jake (Michael Ealy); Jesse (Chris Brown); and A.J. (Hayden Christensen). Not surprisingly, each one fits an archetypal heist movie role - the brain, the brawn, the athlete, etc. - a quality even the advertisements acknowledge.

The movie opens as the group effortlessly robs a high-end Los Angeles bank before escaping in a news chopper and blowing it up at Dodgers Stadium. They’ve all agreed to one job a year and now that the latest has gone off without a hitch, they drive off into the sunset in their expensive cars and motorcycles.

But then one of their former team members, a guy they call Ghost (‘T.I.’ Harris), gets released from jail, and he claims there’s an even bigger job to be done in the form of an armored truck carrying $35 million. The only catch is the operation goes down in less than a week, so the group quickly devises a plan to hijack the truck by blowing a big hole in the center of downtown L.A. If this sounds familiar, you’ll recall the same scheme was carried out in The Italian Job (2003).

Chasing after the robbers is one of those divorced, down-on-his-luck cops (Matt Dillon), along with his family-man partner (Jay Hernandez). Even their roles and relationship heed the heist formula. But wait, the screenplay, which was penned by four writers, has even more going on. It tosses in a couple relationship subplots, one involving Gordon and his drug-addicted sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), and another between Jake and his fiancée (Zoe Saldana), whose only real job is to look beautiful and possibly become a liability. Each of these had the potential to grow into something more serious and thoughtful, but the movie abandons them for the sake of keeping the runtime low and the momentum high.

I guess I appreciated the movie for at least pretending to be about more than its style and action, but it should have made a choice - either take the time to really develop its characters and their situations or just drop the dramatic elements altogether and be only about the heist. The movie can’t just let us sniff substance; it has to let us taste it.

But despite it being a total rip-off of other heist thrillers, Takers still managed to manipulate me with its rhythm, tension, chase scenes, absurd plot and convenient coincidences. The reason I let it get to me, I suppose, is because the characters, for all their clichéd characteristics, are actually likable and somewhat interesting. They make the movie digestible as mindless entertainment.

On the acting side, Elba and Dillon save it from being a total write-off and they made me want to see a better movie with their same characters in it. The other cast members are serviceable, but it was hard to look beyond their flaws as actors, especially Christiansen and newcomer Harris. Luckily, their characters are so cartoonish and goofy that we’re more amused than offended.

I also didn’t mind the movie’s most memorable moment is a chase sequence. In fact, it’s executed and edited with such precision and energy that it’s the one thing about the movie that doesn’t feel standard. It takes place as Jesse, the Chris Brown character, tries to outrun the cops - parkour-style. He sprints through the streets; leaps off balconies; rolls over cars; jumps through windows; runs into office buildings; hides behind walls, etc. I’m not saying it’s credible or even relevant to the plot, but it sure was fun to watch.

And I guess that’s the bottom-line for a movie like Takers: it’s not a good movie, but it works as dumb fun. It diverted my attention and entertained me, which is all some movies are meant to do. Deep down, I know it’s a cheap knock-off of Heat, Ocean’s Eleven, and The Italian Job (I even saw a little bit of The Fugitive in there), and it’s not going to make anyone smarter by watching it, but when the movie starts, it’s hard to look away. It’s sometimes hard to find a dumb movie that still manages to please its audience. Here’s at least one.