Nimrod Antal is something of an anti-M. Night Shyamalan: a determinedly straightforward director who assiduously avoids "ah-ha!" plot twists and narrative bait-and-switches. And while that strategy proved refreshing in his previous film the 2007 horror flick Vacancy it severely undermines his latest effort the bland lightweight heist flick Armored.
Heist flicks are supposed to be complicated. That’s what makes them heist flicks — typically they involve some brilliantly detailed scheme that gradually unravels in exciting and unexpected ways. (For copious examples check out our list of the top ten heist flicks.) Armored’s slender running time generously pegged at 88 minutes tells you just about all you need to know about how inanely uncomplicated this film is.
Columbus Short stars as Ty a decorated Iraq war veteran whose new job at an armored transport company doesn’t pay nearly enough to cover his mortgage or feed his little brother. So when a group of his workplace cronies led by his godfather Mike (Matt Dillon) approach him with a plan to stage a fake hold-up and keep the contents of a high-priority bank shipment for themselves — something that surely no GED-bearing employee of a security firm has ever pondered before — he grudgingly agrees to join them.
The first wrinkle in their supposedly foolproof plan arrives quickly enough when Baines (Laurence Fishburne) a trigger-happy drunk inexplicably brought in on the scheme blows away a homeless guy who unwittingly witnesses their shenanigans. (Because incoherent vagrants always provide reliable testimony.) That’s enough to prompt good-hearted Ty to opt out of the botched heist — a non-starter for the rest of his crew obviously — and the remainder of Armored is devoted to his efforts at evading capture and alerting the cops.
And that’s it -- no unexpected twists no extended “this is how I did it” montages no revealing flashbacks no serpentine subplots. Imagine Reservoir Dogs re-cut as a completely linear film then stripped of its snappy dialogue innovative shot design and compelling characters. In fact the only thing Armored has in common with Tarantino’s flick is a cop with a bloody stomach wound — and even that’s disappointing.
A loosely based remake of the 1963 Stanley Donen classic Charade? Sure The Truth About Charlie sounds good on paper. In the updated version Regina Lambert (Thandie Newton) is a sweet unassuming woman who decides to end her 3-month whirlwind marriage to playboy Charles Lambert (Stephen Dillane). Returning to Paris from vacation she gets to their apartment and finds it empty--except for Paris Police Commandant Dominique (Christine Boisson) whose been waiting for Reggie to inform her Charlie has been murdered and question her. Suddenly Reggie's world comes to a screeching halt. First there's American embassy official Mr. Bartholomew (Tim Robbins) who warns her about the danger she is in. Then she's followed by three oddballs-: Il-sang Lee (Joong-Hoon Park) Emil Zadapec (Ted Levine) and Lola Jansco (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who claim Charlie stole about $6 million from them. Her only ally seems to be Joshua Peters (Mark Wahlberg) a seemingly innocent guy she meets on vacation and then in Paris always happens to be there at the right time. Thrust into the middle of the puzzle Reggie has to piece together exactly what happened to her husband where the money is and more importantly who the heck she can trust. The story seems to flow nicely but you simply get bored midway through the film. There's just not enough intrigue to carry it out to fruition.
The 1963 Charade wasn't the best script out there either. It tended to drag but what made the film become an enduring classic was the on-screen pairing of Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Together they had enough style and class to enlighten any mediocre script. Unfortunately Newton and Wahlberg pale in comparison--Hepburn and Grant they are not. Without a doubt the camera loves Newton and she's very appealing as the lost Regina trying to get a semblance of her life back. She has a fluidity which keeps your attention. And she could have easily had sparks with any another actor but with Wahlberg it's a complete wash. Writer/director Jonathan Demme makes the character Peters more of a Boy Scout rather than a suave sophisticate. Yes Wahlberg can do a role like this with his eyes closed but the part also requires that certain je ne sais quoi--and he just doesn't have it. The actor actually weighs the film down whenever he is on the screen. The supporting cast almost makes up for it especially Levine (The Silence of the Lambs) Joong-Hoon and Hamilton (Beloved) as the strange trio after the pot of gold. Robbins has a fairly nondescript part throughout most of the film but manages to make it solid when it counts.
Jonathan Demme definitely has a quirky sensibility that makes his films very entertaining to watch. He has been out of the limelight since his 1998 Beloved which was a much more classically structured film as was his Academy Award-winning Silence of the Lambs. But I remember his off-the-wall beginnings with Something Wild and Married to the Mob and am very happy to see Demme's unique style return in Charlie. To be honest it's what the saves the film from being a total yawner. He simply adores his surroundings shooting Paris much like New Wave directors of the '60s and '70s such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard and you can tell Demme is inspired by them. There are strange ethereal characters popping up in Reggie's view--a widow dressed in black by a bridge a saggy-faced woman at the market--which keeps the action off-kilter. Unlike the romantic Paris of Charade Demme goes into the seedier side of the city while still capturing its charm. The director also incorporates some of France's cinematic and cultural royalty including actress Anna Karina who made several films with Godard and Charles Aznavour a international singer/composer. The quirks definitely work.