Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 29, 2010 11:43 am 
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Live fast, die young, and betray all your buddies, with a good cigar

This robbery flick with some bad cops is in many ways not really exceptional. But it has some special features. The robbers are especially sharp dressers, never out of suits and ties. They smoke Havana cigars and drink single malt scotch. Paul Walker wears short tab collars with his ties; Hayden Christensen wears bow ties and a little porkpie hat with a white band. There's a totally evil character, young ex-con Ghost (Tip "T.I." Harris) who goes straight from stir to a posh haberdashery and gets fitted out with a flashy new wardrobe to go with his slow sneer and chiseled mocha features.

The action is a bit complicated and a lot implausible. The main crew has just finished a successful bank robbery involving expensive C-3 plastic explosives, guard impersonations and a hijacked news helicopter; later they will use C-4's, and these point to ambitious, specialized crooks and also helps cops trace them through the Russian mobsters they get the stuff from. The take was a couple mil.

Along comes Ghost, who insists the crew turn around and do another job right away, knock over an armored car cash delivery worth $25 mil. An offer they can't refuse, once it seems the holdup point will work, and given the tricky debts owed to Ghost and despite good reasons for never trusting him. (Don't ask.)

Meanwhile, two cops, Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and his longtime partner Jesse Hatcher (Jay Hernandez) are sussing out the bank job and identify one or two of the perps. They are running around, Jack especially, who is so obsessed with catching these "cocky assholes" after the showoff bank job that he goes on a car surveillance when he's supposed to be taking his little daughter to look at L.A. landmarks. Jack is dogged by Internal Affairs. When they finally get him in a room, it's not pretty. But setting up this second bigger job puts the suspects out there where they can be spotted, and as Internal Affairs is close to Jack and Jesse, so Jack and Jesse are close to the natty "takers."

The action level is hard to beat. It's so high, there is little rhythm or buildup. The movie dials up to "super-fast" in the first fifteen minutes and stays there. I once commented on this problem in Joe Carnahan's debut film Narc, which begins with a breathless foot chase, saying it's hard to set that kind of level right off, and Carnahan himself agreed with me. More and more we live in the age of Gen ADD, and Luessenhop doesn't seem to care. It's all part of the escalation that happens in the world of Hollywood pulp. A little hard to believe that this movie is PG-13 and there were some small kids in the audience, but I guess if you compare it to a lot of video games, Takers is gentle stuff. And after all -- spoiler alert! -- the everybody-shooting-everybody-else thing began with John Woo (or Hong Kong gangster films) in the Seventies and was stored in the Grindhouse files for Tarantino to do it over in movies like True Romance. Luessenhop adds faster cutting inspired by TV, constant use of blue and yellow filters, with more and more Parkour-esque building- and car-jumping in the longer and longer chase sequences. The one long foot race (let's save some gas, eh?) is a tour de force. This is one place where Takers clearly excels.

Another place is posturing. It looks like Hayden Christensen isn't going to get to do much but tilt back his porkpie and grim. Actually, though looking good is indeed his main role, and making the occasional brisk comment, he scores a martial arts melee and later flies through the air with gun blazing. Paul Walker, never noted for his high I.Q., is the sane guy here, the anchor, the raisonneur of the piece. These black rapper guys, some of them borderline ex-cons in real life, exude attitude without even trying. There's some competition over a lady. Ghost's babe seems to have gravitated to another member of the crew while he was in jail. But this disappointment does not cause Ghost to muss his shirt. A few drawled threats suffice. It's left to the cops to be sweaty and morally suspect and trapped in bad marriages. The crooks are all crash and doom. If they go down they go down in a blaze of dubious glory with never a moment of self-doubt.

One subplot that will come crashing into the foreground toward the end is that of the Russians, a typically (in movies) ill-humored group with bad hygiene, out-of-date jeans, and a penchant for partying all day with weapons and vodka bottles at their side. Another theme is Jack and Jesse's impending trouble with Internal Affairs. A third is the very private matter of older British robber Gordon Jennings (Idris Elba) and his drug addict older sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) who checks herself out of rehab too soon and thereby gets in the way. All the robbers are supposed to catch a private plane to some far off spot when the job is done. Did I mention crash and doom?

What doesn't work, and makes this movie fall short of those of Michael Mann to which with its love of warring cops and robbers and a glamorous-looking L.A. by night it owes so much, is the conception of the big heist itself. That is a tangled, ridiculously complex and messy affair involving public works diagrams, delivery schedules, the junior mastermind playing traffic cop, craters in the street, a virtual army of armored car guards, and police angling in from all directions. And the rapid pacing wears itself out in the end. Early sequences of Takers are so tense and fast and elegantly shot I could barely contain my pleasure and excitement. By the final reel the speed rushes had exhausted me and I was only hoping Hayden Christensen would make a beautiful corpse.

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