Graced with ample style if not much substance, “Takers” is a respectable but watered-down heist movie that, given the Los Angeles setting, either owes a debt to director Michael Mann or suggests an unusually violent and action-packed episode of “Entourage.” Following his directorial debut, “Lockdown,” John Luessenhop maintains a crisp pace, and weaves in one breakneck foot chase through downtown L.A. that’s nearly worth the admission price. The dialogue and character beats, however, consistently fall flat, which should limit appeal to a young male, predominantly urban audience looking for some modest late-summer mayhem.
Pic opens with a sharply executed bank robbery sequence, introducing a quintet of high-tech, almost gentlemanly thieves. They’re led by Gordon (“The Wire’s” Idris Elba, getting to use his own British accent), whose crew includes brothers Jake and Jesse (Michael Ealy and Chris Brown, respectively) and pals John (Paul Walker) and A.J. (Hayden Christensen).
They’re a steal-hard, play-hard bunch, which is primarily an excuse to show them sauntering around in cool threads set to music, at times resembling a men’s cologne commercial.
The latest job, however, has caught the attention of driven detective Welles (Matt Dillon), who’s determined to catch these “cocky assholes.” And the gang gives him an opportunity sooner than it normally would, as a former member of their posse, Ghost (rapper-producer Tip “T.I.” Harris), comes fresh out of jail bearing an offer they can’t refuse: an armored-car takedown that will net them a cool $25 million.
From there, let the games begin. The criminals plot their elaborate scheme, with Welles and his partner (Jay Hernandez) in hot pursuit. Yet thanks to a script credited to four writers (among them Luessenhop), this slick vehicle stalls every time it slows down to introduce material related to the characters, partly because it’s so unrelentingly hackneyed. That deficiency especially plagues the lone females — Jake’s fiancee (Zoe Saldana, in less than a cameo), who has a past with Ghost, and Gordon’s sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a drug addict.
Elba possesses such a commanding presence that his glare goes a long way, but the rest of the cast members can’t do much with their roles, which offer scant motivation — even regarding the potential romance of pulling one grand job. Wearing two hats, Harris has done his producer self no favors by occupying a pivotal part with a performance that can at best be characterized as a one-note sneer.
The echoes of Mann are partially evoked by the pounding music from composer Paul Haslinger, who became a member of Tangerine Dream a few years after the group’s memorable score for Mann’s 1981 thriller “Thief.” The movie also makes impressive use of Los Angeles as a backdrop, particularly in terms of shooting action scenes in well-trafficked metro areas.
Still, in musical terms, “Takers” seems to harbor some greater, operatic aspirations (witness the overused slow-motion shootouts) and winds up delivering little more than bland pop. In that respect, the movie offers audiences a dilemma that its central characters could surely appreciate — a heist without much of a payoff.