Reviewed by Freda Cooper
There are two Gerard Butler films around at the moment. One sees him explaining Scottish slang. The other is Den Of Thieves.
This is a movie that’s bursting to be something else. With its chases and gunfire, it fancies itself as the DeNiro/Pacino face-off, Heat (1995), but its ambitions don’t stop there. It also sees itself as something of a Sicario (2015), especially when a gun battle takes place in a queue of stationery traffic. But most of all, it really wants to be an updated The Usual Suspects (1995).
First time director Christian Gudegast appears to be a victim of blind ambition: he can’t see he’s no Michael Mann, Denis Villeneuve or Bryan Singer. His film falls way short of the ones he has in mind, even if the visual nods in their various directions are clear to the point of blindingly obvious. There’s nothing wrong with ambition, but let’s be realistic, here ……
Den Of Thieves describes itself as a “gritty thriller”, presumably based on its F-word count. The number of sentences that pass without it could be counted on one hand. OK, two. Maybe ….. It all boils down to an expert gang, responsible for a series of bank robberies in Los Angeles, planning an audacious heist on the Federal Reserve. But on their tail is an elite unit from the Sherriff’s Department. As the crooks are only too well aware.
Heading up those cops is, of course, Gerard Butler, carrying some extra pounds on the instruction of the director, and a liberal smattering of tattoos. And, boy, does he look rough. His job is taking its toll on him and his marriage, he doesn’t get on well with the FBI and he’s smoking too much. He also rejoices in the nickname of Bick Nick, although something else would be more appropriate when he has his first encounter with gang leader, Merriman (Pablo Schreiber). They’re in a shooting gallery, a few booths down from each other. Not a word is spoken. They let their guns do their talking and, from the glances they exchange, it’s like they’re in the gents, making the inevitable comparison.
That said, the film isn’t all bad. Not quite. The souped-up opening sequences are slick and promise plenty of stylish action, but the reality is an over-complicated plot and far too much time setting up the big heist. There’s too little action and less in the way of character development so when the mammoth shoot out arrives, it’s too noisy too late. The end result is soggy, sagging in the middle and sadly uninspired and when the inevitable explanation is trotted out, it’s laughable.
The only person to emerge with any semblance of credit is O’Shea Jackson Junior, the gang’s fall guy who takes a lot of punishment from crooks and cops alike. He’s on very different territory from his great comic turn in Ingrid Goes West and, while he doesn’t disgrace himself in this role, he’s clearly more comfortable making people laugh. Butler is, well, Butler, with an accent drifting somewhere between Glasgow and Los Angeles and going through the motions yet again. Frustrating when he does have the ability to act.
Den Of Thieves is no more than a Friday night popcorn movie. It doesn’t ask a lot from its audience and doesn’t deliver much more, apart from bullets galore and a scrap yard full of battered cars. But for entertainment value, Butler translating Scottish slang wins hands down.
Stars: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, Curtis ‘50 Cent’ Jackson and O’Shea Jackson Junior.
Den Of Thieves is out on the 2nd of February.