What is it about thieves in movies that causes them to lose any sense of practicality? Don't they ever think about setting up a retirement plan so they don't have to pull that "last big job" that invariably goes wrong? And when someone offers them a deal that seems to be too good to be true, don't they know that it almost certainly is, as we've all been told? I mean, a lot of thought goes into a big heist, or at least that's sure what the average caper movie leads us to believe. So how do these master criminals never see the obvious flaws in their plans?
All of these thoughts might run through your mind while watching Takers, though admittedly not for long -- while it's even more improbable than the average heist movie, the picture is fast and stylish enough to roll over the lapses in its own logic like a tank over a pothole, and Idris Elba's performance is strong enough to give the movie some much-needed gravitas.
Takers wastes no time introducing us to its crew of upscale burglars in the midst of a heist. Gordon (Elba) is the cool, thoughtful leader of the crew, and John (Paul Walker) is his quietly confident second-in-command. Jake (Michael Ealy) is the weapons expert and sensitive guy of the group, while his younger brother, Jesse (Chris Brown), is bright and fast on his feet but a little too cocky for his own good. And piano-playing A.J. (Hayden Christensen), who looks like a lost character from Swingers, is the gadget and hardware expert. These guys are clearly very successful and live like high rollers, flaunting their wealth and expensive good taste at every opportunity (so much for not calling attention to your ill-gotten gains). While celebrating their latest score, they're visited by Ghost (Tip "T.I." Harris), a former member of the team, who after six years has just been released from prison. Ghost has a beef with his former partners, especially Jake, who is now engaged to Ghost's former girlfriend Rachel (Zoe Saldana), but is willing to forgive and forget in exchange for helping stage a daring robbery of an armored car loaded with 25 million in cash. However, the big job needs to take place in a week, and this pushes the crew's planning capabilities to the edge, especially when Gordon's drug-addicted older sister, Naomi (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), decides to check herself out of rehab early and appear at his doorstep. Meanwhile, Jack (Matt Dillon) is an obsessive police detective in the classic style -- divorced, loves but ignores his daughter -- who has been investigating the bank job that opens the movie and is grimly determined to put the thieves behind bars, while his more laid-back partner, Eddie (Jay Hernandez), worries about him when he isn't dealing with his chronically ill son.
Takers was directed by John Luessenhop, who is also one of four credited screenwriters, and most of the time he keeps the story moving relentlessly forward, which is good thinking since this is the sort of movie that trips itself up when it slows down. Most of the characters aren't at all well drawn, and the only one with a backstory that amounts to anything is Gordon, as he struggles with a tricky heist and a complicated relationship with his sister. Idris Elba gives what's easily the film's best and most subtle performance, and his strength, intelligence, and caution carry the movie over more than a few rough spots. (And Marianne Jean-Baptiste, who earned an Oscar nomination for her work in Secrets & Lies, does the best she can in what practically defines the term "thankless role" as his sister.).
Matt Dillon clearly tries his best with a role that rounds up most available clichés about the cop whose life is his work, and the rest of the cast struggles to make much of their sketchy characters. Hayden Christensen's greatest triumph is that you lose the desire to strangle him by the halfway point, while Tip "T.I." Harris' performance is so one-note in its villainy that it's hard to imagine how anyone with any sense would trust him. Luessenhop also subscribes to the current conventional wisdom on staging action sequences that the more your camera shakes and the faster you cut, the better, which reduces several chase sequences to several incoherent minutes of random blurs. But Luessenhop does manage to come up with a reasonably imaginative robbery and keeps the tension steady throughout, even if his obvious John Woo lifts call too much attention to themselves. Takers is a non-think action flick that works just well enough to make its hour and three-quarters move by amusingly and painlessly, though it doesn't hold up to careful thought afterward, and Elba definitely deserves to be the lead in a better and more challenging movie.