What is the point of “Takers”? Don’t get me wrong, the movie has entertaining stretches, and naked aspirations to be something more than a lurid glamorization of the gangsters you’ve seen in its commercials — sharply dressed, smooth-talking ladies’ men, always ready to saunter away from the wreckage of an exploding chopper at the drop of a designer fedora.
But the latest crime drama from “Lockdown” director John Luessenhop (featuring embattled crooner Chris Brown, who also produced) doesn’t have the juice to stand alongside the superior thrillers to which it desperately begs for comparison. (Among them: Michael Mann’s “Heat” and the Tarantino-written “True Romance.”)
The problem isn’t the actors, whose performances range from serviceable (Tip “T.I.” Harris, as a charmless ex-con with a heist up his sleeve) to commanding (Matt Dillon, as a job-obsessed cop, and Idris Elba, whose intimidating glare speaks volumes).
Nor is it Luessenhop, who keeps the action tightly paced.
Indeed, the most vexing aspect of “Takers” is how smartly it moves toward a conclusion utterly bereft of meaning, the climax of a story driven by muddled ideas.
Does it want to celebrate its smooth criminals or reveal them for what they are? Beats me.
Theirs is a handsome lifestyle at first, and Luessenhop makes the point with a glorified music video.
Things change. After his prison release, Ghost (Harris) wants back in the gang he helped found, and he comes bearing a Trojan-horse gift: plans for a high-stakes armored-truck job.
Fresh off a slick bank robbery, Gang Gold initially balks before rising to the lure of a fast $30 million.
For sophisticated takers, the job seems a bit basic and their game plan too obvious. Enter Welles, Dillon’s tireless detective. With his reluctant partner (Jay Hernandez, of “Hostel”) in tow, he makes thwarting their next heist a personal quest.
One thing “Takers” does right is give most of these men more than a single dimension. (No special glasses are needed.) With a few glaring exceptions — Zoe Saldana’s token girlfriend is most wasted — these are fleshed-out characters with compelling backstories.
Which is why their seemingly arbitrary fates, often shot in pretentious slo-mo and accompanied by a grandiose orchestral score, are so frustrating.
Luessenhop clearly believes he has a drama of “Godfather”-size importance on his hands. He does not.
And so we are left to wonder, once more, what’s the point? What is this movie trying to say? Why do some characters survive while others rush senselessly toward certain death? It took four screenwriters to stitch this story together; it would probably need four more to explain.
Takers (2 stars)
Starring Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen, Matt Dillon, Michael Ealy, Idris Elba
Written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop, Avery Duff
Directed by John Luessenhop
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes