Director: Christian Gudegast
Writer: Christian Gudegast
Cinematographer: Terry Stacey
Producer: Gerard Butler, Mark Canton, and Tucker Tooley
by Jon Cvack
I can’t remember the last time I saw a bad movie, as in this age of hyper-ratings - where everything from the platform itself to IMDb to Rotten Tomatoes to individual critics offer enough filters to avoid wasting any viewing time on bad films - it’s just so easy to avoid them. Netflix once offered $1 million to improve its rating system, and with the exception of maybe 5% of the time, it’s often correct in predicting down to half a star. I don’t understand those who try and argue this in any way makes the experience less pure, as while it might be unfortunate that we can no longer judge a book by its cover, this has also been something we’ve been told to avoid since youth.
However, in the age of MoviePass, where for ten bucks a month I could somehow see as many movies I’d like to, it has rejuvenated my passion for theaters. In a time where most theaters cost between twelve to fifteen dollars a ticket, it’s rare for me to want to take a gamble and see a film rather than looking up a few ratings and seeing how the film was received. Now I’m free to see any films with the only cost essentially being my time.
A single person on Facebook told me Den of Thieves was worth checking out. My IMDb minimum IMDd score is 7.0 and this had a 7.1, so I figured while it wouldn't be the greatest film, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a “good-bad” action movie in the theaters. I also can’t remember the last time I saw a film this bad, let alone in theaters, leaving me wondering whether there’s a podcast or not, how this could possibly ever get made.
Den of Thieves is a two and a half hour heist film that’s trying to be as cool as Heat (1995), in which it’s easier to highlight the things that worked well than those that didn’t; those items being the opening scene which got me excited for some cheap action thrills (which would never come), and a closing scene which I’m not really sure was good so much as relieving my frustration in expecting an action movie that in fact had very little action, finally relieving the feeling. The problem is that so little of this movie makes sense, leading to that type of movie going experience where you’re hoping to remember all of the most absurd moments, but they’re so awful and uninspired and not even all that ridiculous so much as boring that you just end up forgetting them.
The movie involves a group of SoCal-Bro bank robbers who try and seize an armored truck outside of a donut shop. One of the cops getting killed. The next day Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) arrives on the scene with his band of Sheriffs, ranging from a clean cut officer to someone who looks like he’d be part of the gang of bank robbers, assumedly undercover, but who never actually is undercover. The robbers are led by ex-felon Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), joined by both Levi Enson (50 Cent), Bosco (Evan Jones) who killed the officer, and a driver they recently recruited Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) who is seen driving for about two minutes of the film, including his introduction where he commands a generic mustang around some warehouses, narrowly missing a truck that’s backing into a loading dock. So plays out an exceptionally boring cat and mouse game where it honestly seems as though the filmmakers deliberately avoided watching a single action movie made post-Cobra (1986).
I won’t get into the details leading up to the film’s most absurd moments, so much as to say that Donnie becomes a recruit after being picked up by O’Brien and his fellow sheriffs who are in a hotel room surrounded with cocaine, prostitutes, and alcohol, making you wonder whether they’re actually good cops or not, though it’s never explained, except that O’Brien then comes home to his wife who finds a lascivious text message O’Brien sent to one of the prostitutes and decides to move out with the kids. This is the scene that plays most closely to Heat and Pacino’s inability to leave his work at home and preserve a relationship, except for failing to provide any of the context or clarity that could possibly make it work. Later, the film takes a comedic relief pause, providing another weak throwback to Bad Boyz II (2003) when 50 Cent finally gets more than a single line of dialogue, as his daughter’s prom date arrives and he intimidates the man by bringing him into the garage where all his friends, including his fellow bank robbers, are standing with their bro glasses on and chests out and it’s meant to be funny, but has literally no purpose beyond getting 50 Cent a whole scene to himself. It tries its hardest to accomplish the camaraderie from the Fast and the Furious series, failing to achieve even an ounce of what’s created within thirty minutes of the first in the series.
So O’Brien deals with balancing his job and ailing homelife while the robber’s keep talking about how they’re going to pull off a big job at the Los Angeles Federal Reserve, where through their system of exchanging old paper money for new money, then destroying that old money, they hope to steal tens of millions of dollars of the old money. The prep goes on for about an hour and forty five minutes, never taking the time to explain the plan with any bit of detail, other than characters telling us they have a really good driver.
The heist begins with Merriman appearing to rob a seemingly random community bank, which then attracts the attention of O’Brien and his sheriffs, along with the LAPD and FBI. Merriman demands that no negotiators call under threat of killing a hostage, which of course leads to a negotiator calling, leading Merriman to seemingly kill a hostage offscreen, though given that this trick has been done in about half a dozen other films, I’m not sure anyone actually bought this.
Turns out that the community bank had a vault that went down through a sewer pipe that leads to what I think is the Reserve Building or where they could go to steal a truck. I can’t remember because the whole time I was wondering why they thought it’d be easier to fake rob a bank and attack the police rather than just going through the sewers to begin with.
It’s here that the film might have achieved the biggest plot hole in popular cinematic history, in that rather than O’Brien and his crew calling the Federal Reserve and warning them that there’s an exceptionally high risk of a robbery about to take place, the Sheriffs instead drive there, never telling the FBI or LAPD any of the details. And so with that glaringly obvious solution in mind, the rest of the heist is simply unbelievable; not to mention incredibly confusing. With Merriman and 50 Cent driving the armored truck and bringing in new money, Donnie hides inside one of the old money carts, relying on a strange series of perfectly time computer hacks where, although the Federal Reserve is crawling with armed guards, never leads any of them to believe something is awry. One by one, even with millions of dollars at hand, they exit the exchange point, leaving Donnie to sneak out of the cart a la Ocean’s 11 (2001) and steal millions of dollars by tossing them down the garbage shoot into a dumpster, where suddenly there’s another truck driver we never met who has been able to get past security to grab the cash at the exact right time.
Of course, O’Brien and his crew get there too late, chasing Merriman and Co. through the streets before finally hitting a pile of random LA traffic (the one accurate part in the movie), where rather than the Sheriff’s calling the FBI or LAPD and keeping low - that is, waiting for the robbbers to reach a safe area to engage - O’Brien and his crew decide to lock and load their fully automatic rifles, and in a sea of cars with dozens of people, engage Merriman who returns fire and kills countless bystanders. It’s a scene that appears to exist solely as yet another homage to Heat, except while Mann’s movie created a sense of chaos and emergency in downtown LA streets, this movie abandons logic for a subpar shoot out.
In the end, Merriman dies and we never learn what happened to O’Brien’s family. But wait - there’s more, as for the more absurd loose ends get tidied up when we learn that Donnie was actually a British huckster, who played both sides, and that most of the seemingly random people he interacted with through the film (i.e., a delivery man who brings food to a pair of women at the Federal Reserve) actually orchestrated this grand plot.
It’s truly one of the most unsatisfying plot twists I’ve ever experienced, making you appreciate Soderbergh’s Ocean’s series which was able to achieve twists hundreds of times more interesting throughout three films. Basically, Donnie got a job at a bar where cops and the Federal Reserve employees go, somehow able to convince them to all help without a single leak or issue. If this was never revealed I think the movie would have played the exact same, making me wonder if they tacked it on because the rest was playing so poorly.
I struggle to think of one part or scene in this movie that’s worth checking out, as every single moment plays like a film school student trying to imitate his favorite action and heist movies. There’s no action except in the beginning and end; there’s about three minutes of car chases even though they flirt with the idea incessantly; none of the characters have any personality whatsoever, speaking solely in tropey one liners and tough guy exchanges. I truly can’t understand how this movie got made and can only pray the Podcast gets to it soon enough.
BELOW: Relegating one of the more interesting pieces of Tonya's story into a quick two minute outro
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