Early on in John Luessenhop’s glitzy heist movie, one character says of another, He’s not smart, he’s clever.” “Takers,” unfortunately, is neither.
The picture is a supremely shallow piece about a gang of supposedly cool Los Angeles crooks who specialize in carefully planned robberies. There an ethnically mixed group, though the white guys, John Rahway (Paul Walker) and A.J. (Hayden Christensen) have the street patois down perfectly. Their comrades are team leader Gordon Jennings (Idris Elba) and brothers Jesse and Jake Attica (Chris Brown and Michael Ealy), who apparently own some sort of bar in which they all congregate.
After the boys pull off a spectacular bank job from which they escape by commandeering TV news helicopter (something which, of course, they could hardly have planned without a strong probability of failure, contingent as it is on so many variables as to be incalculable), they’re visited by an old gang member who was caught and imprisoned after his last job with them and just released. He’s Ghost (Tip “T.I.” Harris), who brings with him plans for an armored car robbery he’s acquired from a Russian inmate he was incarcerated with. He’s even willing to set aside the unhappy fact that his old squeeze Rachel (Zoe Saldana) is now Jake’s girl if the group gets together one last time for the job. But there’s a cop on their tail—hard-nosed detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon), who’s tired of being outsmarted by these cocky hoods, and who makes it his mission to hunt them down.
There’s more to the script than that, of course—subplots involving Jake’s sister Naomi (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a crack addict who goes in and out of rehab, and Jack’s partner Eddie (Jay Hernandez), as well as the Russian gangsters to whom Ghost was meant to deliver the heist plans. But most of “Takers” has to do with the five dudes plus one—Ghost—sporting expensive clothes, spouting dumb dialogue and being photographed by cinematographer Michael Barrett as though they were posing for a GQ layout. Not to be left out, the police-centered segments are equally cliched, with Welles portrayed as the hackneyed cop so obsessed with tracking the crooks that he ignores his daughter on their visitation day together; can you believe that Eddie actually says to the crestfallen girl, “Your daddy loves you very much”?
The acting is terrible across the board, but two people stand out. One is Christensen, who embarrasses himself playing a guy who wears a hat that’s supposed be old-fashioned and quirky, plays jazz for fun, and in the end gets to do a self-sacrificial scene that fails to merit even a dollop of regret at his demise. He smiles way too much while delivering his awful lines. The other is Harris, a rapper who’s also a producer on what’s obviously a vanity project and gives a shrill, one-note performance.
Some viewers may find consolation in a long street chase involving Brown, Dillon and Hernandez; but it’s so jerkily shot and choppily edited as to be almost insufferable. But even it pales beside the big shoot-out at the end, done in slow-motion and accompanied by a swooning dirge for cello obbligato, that indicates that director Luessenhop has been watching way too much Peckinpah; and by a last-minute airport face-off that suggests he’s much too enamoured of early John Woo, as well.
It’s really not enough, though, to dismiss a movie like “Takers” as a shiny piece of junk, a vacuous bauble. The truly loathsome thing is that it’s intended to appeal to what the makers assume is its target audience’s grossly materialist and acquisitive side. Young men are supposed to identify with these slick but sleazy guys and approve when they just grab whatever they want, and women are supposed to swoon over them. Such messages are a sad commentary on the culture, and it’s utterly amoral underpinnings that make the picture not just bad but contemptible.
With apologies to Henny Youngman, take this movie—please.