August, like January, is a dumping ground for movies, a time when the multiplexes are flooded with leftover product, as opposed to films. Still, occasionally, a gem sneaks in -- a movie that someone has underestimated.
Takers, however, is not that film.
It's not terrible: It's a slick, fast-paced and semi-intelligent heist film, featuring a couple of impressive action set-pieces. It also obviously offered a legion of stuntmen a lot of work, including one particularly talented one who doubles for Chris Brown on a parkour-infused chase scene up and down the architecture of downtown Los Angeles.
But Takers wants to be Heat and it's not. Director John Luessenhop and his squad of writers make gestures in that direction but never actually get beyond the surface tension -- the style as opposed to the substance.
The crew at the center of Takers is led by Gordon (Idris Elba) and John (Paul Walker) and includes brothers Jake and Jesse Attica (Michael Ealy and Chris Brown) and A.J. (Hayden Christensen as an annoyingly fedora-wearing hipster wannabe). They pull off a clockwork heist at a bank in an LA skyscraper, escaping by stealing a helicopter from TV news crew. Pretty slick until you stop and think about how an entire plan was built on the possibility that a TV news copter would actually land atop the building after being beckoned by a crook disguised as a security guide.
The cop on their trail is Jack Welles (Matt Dillon), a harried hard-boiled type with marital problems. He has unerring instincts when it comes to sorting clues and amazing luck, when it comes to being in the right place at the right moment.
Having pulled off its bank job, the robbery crew is surprised when one of their former members, Ghost (rapper T.I.) shows up, having been released from prison after five years. He was shot and captured during a job and never rolled over on his pals; now he wants not only his share of the old job but to help plan the next one.
And he has a target: an armored car that will be carrying $20 million in cash. But he also has his own agenda, having to do with being left behind when he was injured -- and with the fact that Jake has taken up with Ghost's girl (Zoe Saldana in a throwaway role).
One other catch: The job is in five days, much faster than the usual meticulously planned operations this crew is used to. Yet, somehow, they manage to come up with the necessary maps and schematics of downtown L.A. infrastructure and acquire the equipment and explosives necessary -- then somehow manufacture the extra time needed to pull this off.
Welles, meanwhile, has been following the crumbs of clues to develop his own conclusions about who's pulling these jobs and where they're going to hit next. But he's hampered by the considerations of real life: his weekly visitation with his young daughter, interference from the police department's Internal Affairs squad and so forth.
Luessenhop's idea of an action sequence, however, is littered with jittery, unintelligible shots that keep you guessing about what's actually going on. It's loud, fast and messy, without contributing to your involvement in the moment. His camera generally is too close to the action and the actors to get a real picture of who's doing what. Abstract impressionism is fine as far as it goes, but here it's simply unsatisfying.
Meanwhile, the script gives these actors little in the way of character to play. Elba and Dillon get the most to work with: Dillon as the impatient, under-siege cop trying to stay focused in the face of distractions. Elba is given a substance-abusing sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), fresh out of rehab, demanding his attention at a moment when he can't give it, then going out on a bender that compromises his security.
Otherwise, only T.I, as the snaky Ghost, gives off much more than attitude. The rest have to make do with a series of hard-eyed looks and gunplay, instead of characters (except for Saldana, who looks lost playing a pawn in the chess game between Jake and Ghost).
Takers is diverting and mindless. It's less exciting than you hope and less involving than it needs to be.