Monday, August 30, 2010


“Lockdown” director John Luessenhop’s super-charged, criminal heist thriller “Takers” (*** out of ****) derives its premise and some of its best scenes from other top-flight Hollywood cops and robbers movies. First, “Takers” is set in Los Angeles where Michael Mann made his 1995 classic heist thriller “Heat” with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Val Kilmer. In “Takers,” a quintet of GQ criminals steals what they want when they want it with the least amount of damage. Thoroughly professional to the hilt, these guys live by a code. Second, although clearly inspired by the slickly done Michael Mann epic, Luessenhop helms this stylist thriller as if he spent his every waking hour watching William Friedkin’s landmark “To Live and Die in L.A.” Clocking in at 107 minutes, “Takers” never sacrifices its momentum for anything. Luessenhop’s editor, Armen Minasian of “RoboCop 2” and “Kiss the Girls,” literally slashes the action together. Something is constantly happening. Walk out on this nail-biter and you’ll miss a lot of action even if you’re gone for less than 60 seconds. Luessenhop pares everything down to the bare essentials. Indeed, Zoe Saldana's role looks like it was whittled down to a couple of scenes with little for her to do. Unfortunately, characterization beyond wardrobe changes suffers. Nevertheless, the action burns up the screen, particularly a nimble foot chase that imitates a similar chase from the first Daniel Craig Bond movie “Casino Royale.” Third, Luessenhop stages a noisy but realistic gunfight in the confines of a motel suite that looks like a tribute to Ridley Scott’s L.A.-based crime caper “True Romance.” Mind you, “Takers” ups the ante; the bullets punch big holes in the walls in this shoot-out, and nobody knows who is blasting away at whom on the other side. Finally, a three-way, Sergio Leone/Quentin Tarantino style showdown caps the action at an airport where the cops and robbers face off. Laden with surprises, “Takers” emerges as a gripping heist thriller with enough cool-looking combat to compensate for the dearth of characterization.

Jamaican-born Gordon Jennings (Idris Elba of “Obsessed”) heads up an elite gang of twentysomething criminals that consists of former car thief John Rahway (Paul Walker of “Running Scared”), tattoo-clad, jack-of-all-trades construction engineer A.J. (Hayden Christensen of "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith”), and brothers Jake (Michael Ealy of “Seven Pounds”) and Jesse Attica (Chris Brown of “Stomp the Yard”) who handle C-4 explosives like wizards. During the first scene, Luessenhop establishes the cool expertise of Jennings and company under tension when they execute a flawlessly timed robbery at the Federal California Bank in broad daylight in downtown Los Angeles. They assemble at the high-rise bank in separate disguises and then suit up in masks and body armor with assault weapons. A female bank employee trips a bank alarm during the hold-up. Calmly, Rahway escorts her courteously to a nearby phone where he orders her to call a local TV station and report a robbery in progress. Naturally, an eager TV news crew responds and lands their news helicopter atop the skyscraper helipad where the bank is located. The news reporter believes she has a scoop when the security guard gives them clearance to land. As it turns out, A.J. is masquerading as the security guard. He pulls his pistol and forces her, her news camera man, and the pilot down on their bellies. While the Los Angeles Police Department assembles in the parking lot, the other four members of his team pile into the chopper. A.J. flies the chopper off to a landing site not far away. After blowing up the helicopter to destroy any clues, the quintet separate without anyone knowing anything about them. These guys live the high life and toast each other at Jake’s bar.

Meanwhile, trouble is brewing because one of their former colleagues, Daryl Rivers (rapper-producer Tip "T.I." Harris), who was wounded during a robbery four years ago, is released on good behavior. The gang has since cut off contact with Daryl, a.k.a. ‘Ghost,’ and they are surprised when he shows up at Jake’s bar. As it turns out, Ghost’s girlfriend Rachel Jansen (Zoe Saldana of “The Losers”) has taken up with Jake, so bad blood exists between Jake and Ghost. Gordon and the others fear that after they give Ghost his cut from his last job that he may inform on them to the authorities. Instead, Ghost brings them the blueprints for a daring armored car robbery that could yield a $20-$30 million payday. Initially, the gang is suspicious. They don’t know if they can trust Ghost, but he brings them a sweet deal. The chief drawback is they must stage the heist in less than a week. A.J. performs the leg work and convinces Gordon that the job is something that they can do. Little do they know that Ghost has gotten the idea from an outfit of ruthless L.A. based Russians. The Russians think they are in cahoots with Ghost, but Ghosts plans to use them as a means of exacting sweet revenge on the protagonists. The armored car robbery in “Takers” is truly a piece of work and nothing like it has been done.

Director John Luessenhop and a trio of scenarists, Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, and Avery Duff, have turned an inventory of cop and robbers clich├ęs into a lively little thriller. Although the slippery Ghost is the gang’s most obvious adversary, they have to elude and distract hot-tempered, rogue L.A.P.D. Detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon of “Armored”) who is determined to capture them. Welles and his partner Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez of “Hostel”) are tenacious in their efforts to track down Gordon and company. Like “Heat,” the heroes in “Takers” have personal problems. Gordon has a crack head sister, Naomi (Marianne Jean-Baptiste of “Spy Game”), who creates problems for him when he least needs them. Luessenhop ramps up the suspense and tension throughout “Takers” so that neither the cops nor the robbers have an easy time of it. Complications galore arise to derail everybody’s best laid plans. “Takers” ranks as one of the best L.A.-based heist melodramas since “Heat.”