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.)
June is going home for her sister’s wedding toting a mess of car parts from a junkyard in Wichita apparently the best place in the country for scrap parts. At the airport she twice bumps into a mysterious fellow with dynamite bangs. Just when she feels she might be falling for him she returns from the airplane lavatory to find he has killed everyone onboard. What follows is 110 minutes of your life siphoned painfully from you that you can never reclaim.
Knight and Day is the pinnacle of studio laziness: two pretty people forcefully crammed into an empty vessel in the hopes that their celebrity will dupe more than a few rubes into buying a ticket. This movie is lifeless; it has no pulse from beginning to end. I’m not naive. I know why movies like this exist and I know that I am not the target audience. But what really burns me about Knight and Day is that it fails to deliver on the one note on which movies like this typically bank: cheap romance.
The principal design of a film like this is to provide masturbatory fantasies for people who read gossip magazines. When you are making a film in that vein the only requirement of you is to create chemistry and steaminess between your two leads. Knight and Day managed to fashion a film like that without spending a lick of effort to create sexual tension between the characters. At no point in the film did I feel like they had a relationship -- or that they were even interested in one another -- until I was explicitly told that it was true.
Most of the absence of heat between them is a product of two veteran movie stars who obviously could not care less about the film they are making. If you are a fan of either Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz I would highly suggest taking a trip to Madame Tussauds and staring at their wax likenesses because they will offer more skilled performances cast in wax than they did on screen. If Cruise’s performance were any more phoned in AT&T would’ve sponsored the film. To counterbalance that Diaz is a complete doorknob. Her “fish out of water” routine more often than not devolves into completely inauthentic stupidity and emotionless non-reactions. And I’m sorry Tom but even you have to exert yourself just an iota to be charming.
The plot of the film isn’t just generic it’s insultingly stupid. Take the actors out of the film -- hell take away the fact that the film exists -- if you were to recount the plot points of Knight and Day to someone as if it were a story that person would think you a moron. MacGuffins about batteries characters identified by their naiveté suddenly becoming fully cognizant of complicated schemes and being pretty serving as the only criterion for graduating to superspy all expected to be swallowed as fact.
At least it’s an action film so there are moments of sheer entertainment right? Wrong! The action scenes are as bland and unsatisfying as the rest of the script and offer little more than sweet retreat from the idiocy of the plot and the inadequacy of its cast. Please do not waste your time money or brain cells on this unmitigated garbage. If we collectively say no to movies like this perhaps the next summer vehicle for pretty people will have the good decency to be mediocre.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.