- Directed by John Luessenhop
- Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop and Avery Duff
- Starring Matt Dillon, Idris Elba and Jay Hernandez
- Classification 14A
- Rating: Two stars
Sneaking into the last weekend of the summer, with not much to sell itself beyond the presence of a couple of crossover music stars in the cast (rapper Tip "T.I." Harris and singer Chris Brown), the new heist movie Takers is surprisingly okay.
Once you get past the recycled quality of the characters and dialogue, the movie has some stylish action sequences and moderately clever plot turns that rival anything in the more high-profile summer noisemakers, The Losers, The Expendables and The A-Team. Director John Luessenhop, making only his second feature (his first, Lockdown, debuted a decade ago) proves an astute thief himself, with sequences that pay homage to the anxious crime operas of Michael Mann (especially Heat) and balletic shootouts of John Woo films.
Takers begins with a bank robbery that's executed by five slick thieves who use disguises, technology and ingenuity to plan their exit. The gang - a mixture of street thugs and educated strategists - is led by glowering Gordon (The Wire's Idris Elba, using his real British accent), brothers Jake and Jesse (Michael Ealy and Chris Brown), partner John (Paul Walker) and strategist A.J. (Hayden Christensen).
Post-robbery, they dress in Italian suits, hang around tony bars, sip champagne and talk offshore investments to show us how gentlemen robbers might live. Faintly on their trail are a couple of working-stiff L.A. detectives, a bundle of bad temper named Welles (Matt Dillon) and his easy-going partner, Eddie (Jay Hernandez).
The odds of the cops out-smarting the crooks are long until the gang makes an uncharacteristically rash move. A former colleague, Ghost (T.I., exuding a one-note cocky attitude), has just come out of jail with a plan for an armoured-car heist. The other gang members are doubtful: Ghost is unpredictable, there are some scruffy Russians involved and nobody really needs more money. But as Gordon points out, in a line that justifies the title: "We're takers. That's what we do."
That's the long set-up for a fairly clever cat-and-mouse game, a big explosion in downtown traffic, some intricate indoor gun battles and an impressive foot-race through downtown L.A., all of which adds up to about 40 minutes of decent action filmmaking. The rest of the movie consists of hackneyed domestic-drama filler. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar) gets short shrift as the potential love interest of two members of the gang, and Oscar-winner Marianne Jean-Baptiste, in compensation for the testosterone overkill, does some disconcertingly out-of-place acting as another gangster's drug-addicted sister. On the cop side, it's all about the kids: Eddie, who has a son who needs a new kidney, warns Welles to stop neglecting his young daughter, and start taking care of the "real stuff."
Of course the "real stuff" for the young male action-movie audience is death and glory, muscles and bullets, car chases and big slow-motion kabooms - the rest is hamburger helper. Given the final body count of Takers, a sequel would be a challenge, but, reportedly, a prequel is in the works. With any luck, Takers: The Early Years will skip family history and get right to the shooting.