[Screen It]

"DEN OF THIEVES"
(2018) (Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: An elite but unorthodox sheriff's department team tries to stop a group of highly trained ex-soldiers and criminals from pulling off another heist, unaware that they're targeting the Federal Reserve in Los Angeles.
PLOT:
"Big Nick" O'Brien (GERARD BUTLER) is the leader of an elite sheriff's department team that's trying to find out who's responsible for some unsolved heists in Los Angeles. He and his small crew are good at what they do, but ruffle feathers along the way due to their unorthodox means and coarse ways. Their target is a team of ex-soldiers and criminals lead by Ray Merriman (PABLO SCHREIBER) who has a bigger target in mind than just regular banks.

With the help of team members that include the likes of Enson Levoux (CURTIS "50 CENT" JACKSON) and bartender turned new to the fold getaway driver Donnie Wilson (O'SHEA JACKSON JR.), among others, they've set their sights on the Federal Reserve and the fact that every day $30 million is taken out of circulation and destroyed. Using their skill sets and lots of meticulous planning, they set off to pull an unlikely heist of that cash, all while Nick and his team, unaware of their intended target, try to catch them in the act.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Anyone who regularly or just occasionally reads my reviews probably knows I often harp on the lack of originality in Hollywood. Yes, I understand that with a gazillion (or so) movies having already been made there's bound to be repetition in the story, character types, themes, messages and even just individual scenes and sequences.

Even so, there's usually room to add a variation or two (or three) to the familiar material to make it feel fresh to one degree or another when it appears in a new offering. Granted, that's fairly difficult to do across the board for all aspects of a movie, but with just the right amount or certain touch applied to that, it can make one forget, at least temporarily, that sort of "been there, seen that before" response.

While watching "Den of Thieves," a muscular action flick pitting coarse cops against resourceful and skilled criminals who are attempting to pull off a fairly complicated heist, all sorts of past films and movie characters are likely to pop into your head.

Most obviously, of course, will be "Heat," Michael Mann's terrific action flick pitting two of Hollywood's legendary actors squaring off as men on opposite sides of the law where the action is likewise loud and, yes, muscular.

I'd run out of fingers and toes counting all of the rough around the edges cop characters that have come and gone over the years, but lead Gerard Butler often seems to be channeling parts of Mel Gibson's Martin Riggs from "Lethal Weapon." And speaking of that film (and others such as "The Rock," "Die Hard 2" and so on), the bad guys here are ex-military types who've turned to crime.

I could go on (and on) with plot elements and character types that have inspired this flick, and you might eventually give up noting all of them as plenty of very familiar things show up and play out over the flick's 140 or so minutes. But you know what? It actually works, at least to some extent, in delivering a hard-hitting action flick that's satisfying enough to earn a slight recommendation.

The film opens with an armored car heist sequence that shows the degree of testosterone and armaments that will follow. Coupled with an ending shootout, so many bullets fly that you might think you've stumbled into some sort of military war flick. Yes, the bad guys have big guns, but the fact that they've stolen an empty truck raises the suspicions of Nick O'Brien (Butler), an all-in sort of cop figure who's so rough around the edges he's frayed both in appearance and in his fragile home life.

He eventually narrows the perps down to a former special ops soldier (Pablo Schreiber, thankfully breathing enough life into the character to prevent him from being the rote, one-dimension type so often found in these sorts of offerings). And he believes the way to get to him is through their newest team member, Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), a bartender turned getaway driver (although, if I remember correctly, we never see him doing any of that).

What follows is the usual "I know you're the bad guy" and "I know you're a cop after me" dance that often occurs in movies of this ilk, as both squint at each other while dropping snide remarks and doing their best to apply calamine lotion to their itchy trigger fingers. Both sides have their supporting team members, but they're barely personified outside of Curtis Jackson (a.k.a. rapper 50 Cent) having a brief moment of faux intimidation -- and thus comic relief -- in interrogating his teen daughter's prom date.

Director Christian Gudegast (making his directorial debut after most recently penning Gerard's "London Has Fallen") and co-scribe Paul Scheuring probably should have included a few more moments along those lines to cut through all of the bravado and musky testosterone that fills the air and often threatens to suffocate everything close by. At least when the action kicks in, however, that manliness and preponderance of bullets work to the film's advantage in some decently staged sequences where the firing of rounds certainly keep the theater's subwoofers busy.

Despite possessing nary an ounce of originality at any moment as things play out in a quite familiar style, enough of what's present works -- at least if you're in the mood for big egos and big shoot-outs -- that "Den of Thieves" scores a 6 out of 10 rating.




Reviewed January 17, 2017 / Posted January 19, 2017


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