Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review: "Den of Thieves" is a shameless rip-off of better crime movies.

Den of Thieves Review
There are no more mysteries to the world anymore, I've been told that before. As far as we've come in the 21st Century, it does seem to feel that way. I don't know how you can really look at a movie and truly say that it's something new. It does seem like every good story has been told, and its impossible to reinvent the wheel now. I don't get too upset when a movie doesn't feel original. If you are willing to tell a story that's engaging and entertaining, if your actors are willing to do their job, and if everything can at least make some sense, then chances are I am willing to hear what you have to say. I'd even argue that if you are so subtle and subversive in telling an old story in a new way, it almost feels original.

What I don't really appreciate is when someone so blatantly borrows (and that word is being very generous, very generous) from other movies, and doesn't plan to do much beyond that, it gets hard for me to follow you into your story. "Den of Thieves" feels like it was made by a bunch of teenagers who just learned to cuss and just found out what sex is. These teenagers apparently have only seen the movies "Heat" and "The Usual Suspects," because if "Den of Thieves" is anything, its a lazy hybrid of those movies. Except shot through a filter of "Grand Theft Auto" branded steroids. Its a bizarre miscalculation, something that doesn't feel deep or surprising or entertaining, which sucks since I can tell the movie wants to do all three of those things.

Gerard Butler plays "Big Nick" O'Brien, a gritty Los Angeles sheriff who plans to bring down Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) an ex-marine turned bank robber who is planning a big job at the Federal Reserve Bank with his crew. Big Nick recruits Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) a bartender who is a criminal on the side, to infiltrate Merrimen and his crew and feed him information back to trap him. Merrimen and Big Nick have a history, so its personal for both of these men. Which translates out to lots of mean-mugging stylized poses of these two men starring each other down, leading up to a blood-soaked shootout, between the good guys and the bad guys, resulting in countless lives.

What kills me is how slimy Big Nick is as a character. Sure, we get some lip service of him being corrupt, he is willing to do whatever it takes in order to bring the bad guys down, no matter if its illegal or not. But we get a scene where he his wife finds out that Big Nick has been cheating on her with strippers, so of course she calls for a divorce. And when he's served divorce papers, who goes and tries to beat up her new boyfriend even though he's at fault for the divorce. It's hard for me to really cheer for the "hero" of a movie if that character spends very little time being heroic. I can't call Big Nick an anti-hero, he's just an asshole we have to root for because he's the one carrying the badge. I haven't even mentioned the awkward scene of Big Nick torturing Donnie in order to get him to comply to be a mole in Merrimen's crew. There is a small explanation of cops being beat down by the demands of job, but honestly, so many similar movies have already covered this ground that you got to approach in a different way, or a significant way, its not enough to simply highlight that fact then expect your audience to root for a genuinely unlikable person.

The movie does little to fill these men with personality, they are more ticks and mannerisms instead of actual people resembling anything remotely like character development. There are so many scenes of men starring each other down with a brooding glare that I almost wanted to laugh. Stretching the film in a slow drag toward nearly two and a half hours of screen time for no apparent reason. Only for shootout at the end, and the shootout is so shamelessly lifted from "Heat" that its distracting, when it should be exhilarating. So the director, Christian Gudegast, really likes Michael Mann. That's cool. I like Michael Mann, but many have been lifting that particular shootout for many years now, its tough to really get excited about something you've seen countless times before. Especially since "Den of Thieves" is so content on going through the motions.

Then there's the "twist" at the end. Except its not a twist. The reveal is so telegraphed from start to finish that not only will the average audience member be able to guess the twist, but you are going to have it figured so fast that you are going to sit in the theater angry and agitated, waiting for the ending to play out.  There is nothing even remotely surprising about the "twist" at the end that it feels like a waste of time. Not something that is going to leave a stamp on me later after I've left the theater.

The cast is fine? I mean, I don't think it really takes much effort to look brooding and badass with fake tattoo's on your arms. The film is well shot, and there are some dark laughs in the movie, but they are far and few between, and they are not enough to save this movie. There is a moment where 50 Cent, a member of Merrimen's crew and a father of a teenager going out to her first prom dance, takes her date on a talk to intimidate him. While I can understand that protective urge, especially since I am going to be the father of a daughter very soon, the scene is wasted. It was done in "Bad Boys II," and it was done way better there. "Den of Thieves" feels like the copying of several sheets of other movies' scripts and putting into one script. Then making every character unlikable and drawing the length of the movie past a breaking point. Not to mention writing a "story" that has no idea what the fuck its about. "Den of Thieves" is a movie full of issues, masquerading as something trying to be clever. Buyer beware.


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