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.)
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.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT?
Derek Charles has a beautiful wife beautiful new son beautiful home and a promotion in a big job but his life is turned inside out when he encounters his attractive temp — as in temptress — assistant Lisa who has designs on him and tries to get him to reciprocate. His resistance only increases her efforts as she becomes the stalker from hell throwing his marriage and career into complete chaos … unless he can stop her fanatical "obsession."
WHO'S IN IT?
As Derek the nice guy whose life spirals out of control after a temp stakes a claim on his affections Idris Elba comes off as passive and confused — no match for either a defiant Beyonce Knowles as his wife or Ali Larter (Heroes) as the psychotic maneater who tries to rock his world with everything this side of boiling bunnies. Both stars get a chance to shine before meeting up in a memorable showdown right out of the Fatal Attraction playbook. Larter is sexy seductive and disturbed all at once perfectly capturing the fragile state of a delusional woman in heat. Knowles who previously showed off her acting chops in musicals like Dreamgirls and Cadillac Records really gets to go for the dramatics in Obsessed — and delivers. She does contribute an end title song appropriately called "Smash Into You " aptly describing what she (and her stunt woman) pull off in style in the film's big climactic scene. Also worth mentioning are Jerry O'Connell as Derek's office buddy and Matthew Humphreys as his efficious gay assistant who likes to spread the office gossip. Christine Lahti however is saddled with a thankless role as a rather clueless detective — this fine actress deserves better.
Those who go in checking their brain at the box office might find this paint-by-numbers scenario crudely entertaining even in its utter predictability. It's well-played if totally over the top but hey isn't that what we want from this stuff?
Start with credibility. There isn't any. It takes a full 80 minutes before anyone utters the phrase "restraining order " and the frustration builds while watching a nice innocent guy become such a wuss at the hands of his sexually off-balance temp. Of course if he came clean about the situation and called the police the movie would be over in the first 20 minutes. So suspending belief is a must here. It's interesting to note that considering the casting of Beyonce and blonde goddess Larter as the women at the heart of this triangle those expecting what has been buzzed as a "black Fatal Attraction" will find there is not even a single line referring to the racially mixed nature of the relationships.
HOW TOUGH IS BEYONCE?
Beyonce gets the film's best line in a take-no-prisoners moment when she leaves a message on the nutcase's answering machine: "You think YOU'RE crazy? I'll show you CRAZY. Just try me bitch!"
A well-written hospital scene where Derek gets grilled by a detective and his wife at the same time. This will teach every guy to 'fess up before it all goes bad.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Multiplex. The crowd reaction during the finale is part of the fun. But despite the surprisingly generous PG-13 rating definitely leave the kids with the babysitter.
You remember Gina (Queen Latifah) from Barbershop 2? She's the one who worked at a beauty shop next door to the barbershop and gave Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) all kinds of grief. In Beauty Shop the widowed Gina has moved from Chicago to Atlanta so her daughter can attend a prestigious music school. With scissors in hand Gina quickly becomes the most sought-after stylist at a chic-chic salon. Unfortunately the guy who runs it is a superficial egotistical jerk named Jorge (pronounced "Hor-eh") (Kevin Bacon) who tosses his weight--and his stringy hair--around a lot. Obviously the headstrong Gina isn't going to stand for that nonsense for very long. She eventually tells him off and storms out to open her own shop taking a few choice clients with her. And what a shop it is! The ever-creative and determined Gina stocks it with her own hair products or "hair crack" as it's lovingly referred to a cappuccino maker and a myriad of colorful employees who also aren't afraid to speak their minds. So grab a seat under the hairdryer and watch how these women get busy.
Beauty Shop also has a myriad of animated performers. Everyone seems to be having a great time except maybe the Queen Bee herself. In Barbershop 2 Latifah's Gina got to be one of those full-of-life supporting players sparring with Cedric the Entertainer and delivering some of the film's better moments. Now that the actress has to carry the film she also has to play it straight most of the time which doesn't suit her quite as well as it did for Ice Cube. But she still manages to infuse her own particular brand of charm every once in awhile when the film warrants it. The rest of the cast keep things light and lively especially the over-the-top Bacon who plays Jorge as a cross between one of those pretentious hair salon owners we all know and a bit player in a bad disco movie complete with a faux Austrian accent and gold chains. It's good to see him have some fun. It's also good to see Alfre Woodard who plays one of the shop's more eccentric hairdressers wearing low-cut leopard prints and spouting poetry by Maya Angelou. Also making an impression are Alicia Silverstone as the token white girl in the salon who eventually gets a ghetto makeover; and Keisha Knight Pulliam all grown up from playing little Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show as Gina's lackadaisical sister-in-law.
Initially it's fun to see the same Barbershop dynamics applied to Beauty Shop this time from a woman's point of view. Director Bille Woodruff (Honey) does a nice job setting up all the different personalities in the shop from the sardonic to the bubbly to the unconventional as the women talk about anything from bikini waxes to men crying during sex to interracial love. It's amusing and will hit home for many of the women in the audience but you'll soon realize Beauty Shop's script is far more tame and predictable than outrageous. Basically Beauty Shop doesn't have an Eddie character which is what makes the Barbershops work so well. He's there to say the most outlandish--and sometimes offensive--things that make people stop think and then laugh their butts off. Beauty Shop only touches upon social and cultural differences never really digging in deep and rarely making you laugh out loud.