The record of rappers becoming actors is decidedly mixed. Eminem drew praise for his semi-autobiographical turn in 8 Mile while his Detroit neighbor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson was largely panned for his work in his 2005 biopic Get Rich or Die Tryin’. Ice Cube and Ice T have both earned steady paychecks and occasional acclaim on the big and small screens while the less-esteemed member of the Brothers Ice Vanilla never quite recovered from 1991‘s disastrous Cool as Ice.
Two of the latest hip-hoppers to attempt the leap Chris Brown and Tip “T.I.” Harris can both be seen in the heist thriller Takers. They also served as producers on the film and in that regard they deserve credit for helping assemble a cast that quite effectively lowers the bar for their acting work. In an ensemble that includes the likes of Paul Walker and Hayden Christensen they needn’t worry about issuing Oscar-worthy performances. As long as they’re semi-ambulatory they stand a fairly good chance of keeping pace with Takers’ slow-moving herd.
The film’s plot concerns a swaggering crew of bank robbers whose sophisticated methods have enabled them to pull off a number of high-stakes heists with nary a hitch. Their strict adherence to a one-job-per-year schedule is enough to fund a luxurious lifestyle in which they freely indulge their tastes for fancy cars tailored suits single-malt scotch and big cigars (No King Cobra and Swisher Sweets for these classy gents. No siree.) All of which is fastidiously depicted by director John Luessenhop (Lockdown) whose aesthetic sensibility in Takers varies between hip-hop video and Maker’s Mark ad.
And they’re decent civic-minded folks too: Jake (Michael Ealy) is eager to leave the game and settle down with his fiance (Zoe Saldana) the proprietor of a trendy downtown L.A. cocktail lounge; his brother Jesse (Brown) wants to ensure their elderly father is taken care of upon his release from prison; proper English chap Gordon (Idris Elba the lone standout) faithfully shepherds his junkie sister through rehab; John’s (Walker) moral compass won’t allow for shooting cops or unarmed civilians; and A.J. (Christensen) is a talented pianist whose bowler hat and hoarse hepcat diction are I can only assume indicative of a deep appreciation for jazz-age style.
But for all the gang’s obvious intelligence their judgment of character is appallingly poor. When a shady former associate named Ghost (T.I. — which after watching the film I now realize stands for "Totally Incoherent") comes to them with a suspiciously lucrative new opportunity he claims to have hatched during a recent jail stint the fellas need all of a nanosecond to sign on to the dubious scheme forsaking all of the rules that made them successful. Why they’d place their livelihoods on the line for an ex-con who can’t be bothered to raise his eyelids above half-mast or pronounce consonants appearing at the end of words like “love” (which his lazy twang renders “luh”) is beyond me but it’s the first of several missteps that open the door for Detective Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) an old-school cop who refuses allow a crumbling marriage chronic sleep deprivation or established caselaw involving warrants and Miranda rights to deter him in his dogged pursuit of justice.
Takers features a smattering of the expected twists and turns most of which are sufficiently telegraphed by Luessenhop’s direction which downshifts to slow-motion at the advent of every action sequence and the film’s predictable story arc. What is surprising about the film is its lack of verve an absolute must for a heist flick and something which even the worst of the Ocean’s films boasted. For all of its bullets and bling Takers all too often feels as lethargic as its co-producer and co-star T.I. looks. (Although to be fair Dillon appears at times to be sleep-walking as well.)
Poor Donna Keppel (Brittany Snow). Some years back her parents and brother were slaughtered by Richard Fenton (Jonathan Schaech) a teacher who had developed a psychotic fixation on her. Richard went to an insane asylum but he broke out and now he’s back in town just in time for Prom Night where he resumes his pursuit of Donna and knocks off some of her friends for good measure. Bringing up the rear is dogged Detective Winn (Idris Elba) desperately trying to nail Fenton as the body count mounts. Sooner or later--and it’s much later unfortunately--Donna will come face to face with Fenton one last time. With characters as one-dimensional and dumb as these there’s not much the cast can do except stand around in their prom outfits waiting to get killed off. As the deranged killer Schaech stares glares and skulks around. Leading lady Snow widens her eyes and worries accordingly throughout while Elba tries to inject a little intensity into the stock role of the cop on the case. Working from a bad screenplay by J.S. Cardone first-time helmer Nelson McCormick displays little enthusiasm--either for the genre or for this particular film. The scare tactics are hackneyed and usually involve characters surprising each other--a gag that gets really old really quickly. When one character mutters “This is getting silly. Enough already ” we couldn’t agree more. And we’d add “boring” to that statement. It should be noted however that there’s an awfully high body count for a film rated PG-13 even if the film isn’t as bloody as one might expect. McCormick and Cardone have re-teamed on the upcoming remake of The Stepfather and if their collaboration here is any indication horror fans may have reason to be afraid--very afraid.
If there’s one positive thing about Delta Farce is that is actually follows a tried and true comedy formula-- namely the fish-out-of-water scenario—with moderate success. Down on his luck after losing his job and his girlfriend on the same day Larry (of the Cable Guy variety) decides to join his neighbor Bill (Bill Engvall) and his combat-happy buddy Everett (DJ Qualls) for a relaxing weekend of playing army. But when the three unlucky guys are mistaken for Army Reservists they’re loaded onto an army plane headed for Iraq--and mistakenly ejected in a Humvee somewhere over Mexico. Don’t ask. Convinced they’re actually in the Middle East the clueless wannabe soldiers turn into Magnificent Seven meets the Three Amigos and save a rural village from a siege of bandits proving to be real heroes after all. If you need to laugh at the war on terror you might as well do it with Larry the Cable Guy. He serves up his particular brand of comedy making light of a bad situation. In fact not only does he come off somewhat sympathetically as the hapless boob with a heart of gold he also gets the hot chick at the end of the movie. Go Larry! As his accomplice fellow stand-up Bill Engvall follows his own comic routine playing a hen-pecked trailer trash denizen who views this adventure as a great way to escape his overbearing wife and snotty kids. As the third doofus DJ Qualls (Hustle & Flow) plays a trigger-happy wannabe jarhead who sees this opportunity as a way to gain some street cred. And in a supporting role Danny Trejo a Robert Rodriguez regular pokes fun at his scary looks as the leader of the marauding bandits aptly named Carlos Santana. Yes the jokes are plenty. Director C.B.Harding is obviously a Larry the Cable Guy crony since his only other feature film credit is the Blue Collar Comedy Tour movie. Honestly all that’s really required of him is to point and shoot with maybe a few action sequences to coordinate here and there. But while the formula works as a cohesive movie having to sit through Delta Farce’s comic stylings is the tricky part. What it really boils down to is whether you’re a fan of Larry the Cable Guy. If so you’ll (I would hope) realize you’re watching a pretty stupid comedy but will laugh in the appropriate parts. If not I would really wonder what the heck you are doing sitting in the theater.
Three years since relieving ruthless Las Vegas hotel owner Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) of a large chunk of cash Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his crew--including detail man Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) and novice pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon)--have tried to live modest legit lives. Sure it's hard to go straight but hey at least they got away with the heist of the century. Right? Not quite. Seems a mysterious someone has ratted the gang out to Benedict who demands his $160 million back or else. Strapped of most of their cash and too hot in the United States to pull off a job Ocean and company decide Europe would be the best place to score much to the chagrin of Danny's wife Tess (Julia Roberts). Once in Europe however they find out it isn't as easy as it used to be. They run up against the tough-as-nails Europol agent Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who once had a fling with Rusty and Europe's premier master thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) who seems to be one step ahead of Ocean's crew. Let the games begin.
Ocean's Twelve's crop of A-listers have way too much fun making these movies as they recapture that freewheeling spirit and good-ole-boy camaraderie from Ocean's Eleven. Even though sometimes it seems like they are a bunch of frat boys hazing each other the actors clearly are enjoying themselves tremendously--and so do we. Clooney and Pitt continue to be the suave ringleaders speaking to each other in code while Pitt's Rusty gets the love interest this time around. As Rusty's former flame Zeta-Jones holds her own with the boys but doesn't have nearly the chemistry with Pitt that Roberts and Clooney exude as marrieds Danny and Tess. Actually Roberts almost steals Twelve away from the guys: she gets to show off her comedic abilities in one of the film's most hysterical sequences which involves real-life movie stars and Fabergé eggs. As far as the rest of the gang they all are back and raring to go including Damon who comes off as even more green and eager as Linus and the hilarious bickering Malloy brothers played brilliantly by Scott Caan and Casey Affleck. As for the villains Garcia's Benedict has very little do leaving most of the malevolent posturing and stylish good looks to French actor Cassel (Birthday Girl) as the crafty Night Fox.
With one of the keenest eyes in the business director Steven Soderbergh is a pro at letting audiences experience what seem to be very personal moments in his films. Ocean's Twelve is no exception as we become privy to the locker-room antics of our favorite band of thieves. This makes you as much a part of the boys club as its rowdy stars. Soderbergh describes Twelve as a "movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go " whereas everything went right in Eleven. This allows for some wonderful comic scenes such as Roberts' escapade and the quick-witted exchanges between the boys. Upon finding out that the gang is now called "Ocean's Eleven" safecracker Frank (Bernie Mac) exclaims "Who decided that? I'm a private contractor!" The film's inherent problems come from George Nolfi's screenplay which tries to incorporate the whole "greatest thief in America meets the greatest thief in Europe" idea. Suddenly Twelve becomes less about planning a heist and watching things go wrong than about a cock fight to see which thief can outdo the other thief. At the end when all the convoluted twists are revealed you're left wishing for simpler times.