Critical Mass: 'Takers'
We're in the dog days of summer here, people, and not even the nation's film critics, hiding from the heat in the cool comforts of the theater, can muster much enthusiasm for the films they have to review this weekend.
Case in point: The Times' own Betsy Sharkey's review of "Takers." Sharkey begins, "'Takers,' the new heist movie starring blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and T.I. (who's scary bad and just plain scary), would be a good snooze if it weren't for all the noisy gunfire and explosions and the violins — which always signal a 'special' shootout that will unfold in that ballet-of-death style that's supposed to be arty but just feels tedious here."
Those arty explosions seem to be the point, near as the Detroit News' Adam Graham can figure. He writes about the film's main concern, which is "its own slickness, to the point where its attempts at heart and humanity slide right off the screen."
The plot of "Takers" involves a plan to rob an armored car, which of course goes awry. And if you think that sounds a lot like the opening of Michael Mann's "Heat," you're not alone -- USA Today's Claudia Puig feels our pain. In her two-star review, she says, "'Takers' director John Luessenhop's work bears the obvious influence of action director Michael Mann. With its downtown Los Angeles setting and world of slick bad guys and hard-core cops, this hackneyed heist movie comes off like 'Heat' lite."
Many critics cite the bad dialogue, but if anyone's going to wind up getting quoted after this, it's star Paul Walker, who gets to recite the most-quoted passage of the movie when he explains the title: "We're takers. We take things. That's what we do."
Not everyone's a hater, though even the most positive reviews aren't raves. Critic James Berardinelli's three-star review on Reelviews "admires the film, but is careful to lower expectations for the curious. It's hard to imagine anyone who sees the movie not being at least moderately engaged," he writes.
The New York Times' A.O. Scott isn't the only critic to single out the physically attractive qualities of the movie's mostly male cast, but he's the only one to attempt to invent his own magazines that would celebrate their beauty."If there were such a thing as GQ Jr. or Esquire for Kids — a young-dude analogue for magazines like Seventeen or Teen Vogue — it might be something like 'Takers,'" he writes.
Rene Rodriguez writing for McClatchy Newspapers, Christine Champ writing for Film.com and Padraic Maroney in Edge Los Angeles, meanwhile, settle for simply pegging our heisters as being like something from the real GQ. Get inventive, people! Then you can make the big bucks like A.O. Scott.
John Anderson's review in the Washington Post seems to touch on exactly what the filmmakers were going for, "the Holy Grail -- i.e., a hetero-male version of 'Sex and the City': luxurious clothes, hipster cars, fat cigars, big guns (of course), women as drapery -- you know, all the cool stuff, shot like porn." But sadly, Anderson has to school director Luessenhop in the basics of action cinema: "He shoots too closely; he's practically crawling up his characters' nostrils with his unhinged camera. Sometimes there's no center of gravity at all, so all that motion is rendered meaningless: To get a vicarious thrill, you have to at least know where you are."
If the creators of "Takers" can take solace in anything, it's that their end-of-summer heist film got slightly better reviews overall than Sarah Jessica Parker's start-of-summer spend-fest, "Sex and the City 2."
If "Takers" does well enough for a sequel, may we suggest a trip to the Middle East?
--Patrick Kevin Day
Photo: Tip "T.I." Harris, left, and Michael Ealy star in "Takers." Screen Gems