Chris Brown, Hayden Christensen, Idris Elba, Matt Dillon, Paul Walker, T.I.
John Luessenhop, Avery Duff, Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus
First things first. I have a confession.
I don't care for Chris Brown. Truthfully, I don't much care for any man who has been convicted of going whup ass on his girlfriend, spouse, child or, for that matter, any other human being.
So, imagine my surprise (sarcasm duly noted) when it was announced that one of our most recent poster boys for thugdom would be featured in this film, produced by and starring fellow rapper and a recent prison release himself T.I.
To his credit, Chris Brown did not try to revive his cinematic career with anything like This Christmas, a spiritually tinged family film that would seem out of reach of the actor at this point in his career no matter how much a judge praises his recovery work.
This doesn't mean that this review of Takers is inherently biased. Far from it. If anything, it's difficult to watch Takers without just a touch of sadness at the unfortunate decline of a spirited, talented young man with an undeniably strong screen presence and a bright future. While it may seem odd for Brown to tackle what is essentially a heist film at this juncture in his career, Takers is a good career move for the young actor - a film that is stylish and well produced without serving up too many reminders of the baggage with which the actor arrives.
Did I mention that Brown, along with the always dependable Idris Elba, happens to be one of the film's highlights?
Takers is about people who, well, take. They take things. They are thieves, essentially, but they are extraordinarily gifted thieves. The film kicks off with a rather amazing bank robbery led by Gordon (Elba) and his gang that includes best buddy John (Paul Walker), brothers Jesse (Chris Brown) and Jake (Michael Ealy) and A.J. (Hayden Christensen). There is another member of the crew, Ghost (T.I.), who has managed to spend some time in prison without ratting out the others and gets released spouting out Genghis Khan and fantasizing about a well planned super score for which he wants the support of Gordon and the gang.
Almost against his better judgment, Gordon gets drawn into Ghost's big plans and, along the way, director John Luessenhop draws us into the action with shots about as pretty and stylish as a Michael Mann film if this would happen to be Mann's first ever film.
For a film that is remarkably polished, Takers is remarkably lacking in actual shine. Virtually every frame of Takers screams out style from the fashion designer suits to the Dom Perrignon and the luxurious penthouse apartments to the luscious babes, including a very non-blue Zoe Saldana, who moves over from Ghost's girl to that of Jake.
Luessenhop and D.P. Michael Barrett have infused Takers with camera work that feels like it's taken out of a Michael Mann paint-by-numbers set, complete with the opening bank robbery and its exquisite scene of Brown running through traffic along with a rather remarkable armored-car robbery and scene after scene of beautiful sunsets and busy, blurried streets.
Among the crew, Elba and Brown shine most brightly with performances that are electric and intense. While every character in Takers is one-note, at the most, both Elba and Brown bring those notes to life with energy and substantial pizzazz. Matt Dillon and Jay Fernandez are here as the cops trailing after the gang, though they aren't much more than cardboard cut-out cops with the usual cardboard cut-out caricatures.
As nearly anyone would acknowledge, in an action thriller simply being stylish and filled with action is quite nearly enough to create a successful film. While this is true, Takers falters greatly due to the laughably awful dialogue by a quartet of writers that includes Luessenhop and Paul Haslinger's overwrought original score that makes every scene sound a heck of a lot more important than what's actually showing on the screen.
Far too stylish for its own good and filled with dialogue that elicits unintended laughs, Takers is a beautiful to look at film that seems to want to find a comfortable existence between Michael Mann and Clooney's Ocean films. In the end, the film never manages to distinguish itself as anything more than a stylish, urban drama serving as a comeback film for both Brown and T.I. In this case, decent is disappointing as Luessenhop clearly has a gift for the visual and a strong sense of action style. Working with a better script, Takers might actually be worth keeping.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic