Den of Thieves: Movie Man Jackson

This is Grand Theft Auto V played out on the silver screen. Los Angeles is the home of many things, including (apparently) the most bank robberies. Heading a crew of career criminals and military men is Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), who’s got the right-hand man in Enson (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) and talented driver Donnie (O’Shea Jackson, Jr) among other squad mates. Their goal? To pull off the job of all jobs: Rob the LA branch of the Federal Reserve, which houses untraceable money if taken at the right time.

In their way is Sheriff Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler), a brash, take-no-prisoners officer lawman who may be just as bad as those who his crew is trying to stop. This can only end one way. The heat is on.

Quick, what do Proud Mary and Den of Thieves, two movies released in back-to-back weeks, have in common? Both employ people behind the camera who had major responsibilities in 2016’s London Has Fallen, the movie that keeps on coming back! Instead of Babak Najafi, Den of Thieves is put together by Christian Gudegast, the writer of that Mike Banning sequel who carries directing duties in addition to screenplay responsibilities this time around. While this is far from the best of the best in the cops versus robbers genre, it is surprisingly competent and even a little entertaining.

Hard not to compare every recent cops and robbers movie against Michael Mann’s legendary Heat, and Gudegast certainly doesn’t seem to shy away from the similes. Our good guys (read: bad guys) and bad-der guys intersect quite early and often, somewhat laughably with the frequency this occurs. Anyone who has seen this movie before knows what the climax will consist of. There’s some superfluous additions and scenes to the overall story; 140 minutes could probably be cut down to 120, max. However, a level of unpredictability does keep things engaging, and while somewhat implausible, there is a massive twist that doesn’t completely collapse when thought about.

Den of Thieves isn’t the all-out, fully-automatic heist-action the trailers set it up to be. This mad city (get it?), while not exactly slow paced, is slightly more methodical than anticipated. Think of it like GTA V, in that there are many set-up missions to get to the massive heist. Honestly, the film could use one more set piece—preferably in the middle—but at least Gudegast does bookend with a tense beginning and end action sequence that are shot and captured much, much better than anything in London Has Fallen or Proud Mary, aided by a steady score by composer Cliff Martinez. Good stuff for a directorial debut.

Despite Gudegast’s efforts to flesh out his main characters, they are of the one and slightly two-dimensional than three-dimensional ones. Machismo is the name of game in Den of Thieves; sadly, there’s not a prominent female to be found. 50 Cent is a name who’s not required to do much except look tough and be convincing with a rifle. That he can do. Easily, this is certainly Gerard Butler’s best role in years. Looking at his filmography, that’s not saying much, but there is a gruffness, gung-ho, and even intentionally comedic aspect he finds, playing off the stereotypical asshole officer in charge without being corny or groan-inducing.

But, the standouts are the underrated Pablo Schreiber, physically convincing and cerebral as the gangleader, and O’Shea Jackson, Jr, once again showing star power and thespian versatility in spades as the link that tethers the opposing forces. Even when the movie is too methodical in its pacing without adding a ton in the substance department, there’s enough collective charisma to keep from checking out.

Any movie that’s designated for January release that actually isn’t a dumpster fire feels like a minor win. Den of Thieves does not operate at a high level, but a level slightly higher than mediocre.

C+

Photo credits go to avclub.com, page58.com, and Youtube.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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London Has Fallen: Movie Man Jackson

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C’mon…a missed opportunity to play London Bridge is Falling Down or some variant in the trailer or film! A couple of undetermined years after the attack on the White House, once-disgraced agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) has been reinstalled as the head of President Asher’s (Aaron Eckart) security. A simple choice, really, being that Banning saved the world. But, Mike is contemplating resignation from his role, in order to spend more time with his wife (Radha Mitchell) and soon to be newborn.

The unexpected death of the British Prime Minister requires the President to travel to London to pay respect to one of America’s most important allies. While there, all hell breaks loose even with massive security deployed, and it turns out that President Asher is the main target. London Has Fallen siege to a years-in-the-making terrorist attack, and it is up to Banning, once again, to protect the Commander in Chief in the face of overwhelming odds.

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Something tells me that if the events of London Has Fallen were, heaven forbid, carried out with a possible future President in charge whose name is Donald Trump, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a large chunk of the American population not care about whether he made it out alive. Real-life politics aside, London Has Fallen is the sequel few people had asked for to the surprise hit Olympus Has Fallen, but have received. The biggest positive is that this isn’t as bad as its trailer would indicate! With that said, this is very much in the vein of its predecessor, which is good and bad depending on the viewer’s appreciation with the first.

Stepping into the director’s role in place of Antoine Fuqua is Babak Najari, who yours truly is unfamiliar with. LHF is as a whole, better-directed than some other similar action movies. Thankfully, this is no Taken 3. Generally, Najari is solid, not spectacular, in his direction; he does manage to put together one to two standout action sequences, mainly the car chase that happens about a third of the way through, and some good hand-to-hand combat. I’d argue that the few one to two high points of London are higher and more memorable than the high points of Olympus.

Similar to Olympus however, the CGI is just as bad and in some cases worse, be it an explosion, some helicopters flying, or even some digitized blood. It is just…shoddy, which can be said as well for some of the editing and set pieces. Whether it is a lack of budget, or a lack of skill, some of the second half suffers aesthetically due to an absence of light, which makes it hard to see what is happening. Just accept that Banning is inflicting damage because he doesn’t take any. And he inflicts a lot of gushy and violent damage.

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Notice I didn’t mention the plot aside from the intro. That’s because it is extremely straightforward, and nothing more than what it promises, which is the good guys coming after the bad guys for coming after their safety. If there is one key thing that London doesn’t get right which Olympus did, it is the feeling that comes at the end, that “Merica” feeling. However trivial that sounds, it existed in the first installment, and it is not found here despite efforts to have it present.

This installment still has Gerard Butler, a star when he’s in an action movie (save Gods of Egypt, of course). He gets to do some impressive things, but works mainly because he is pretty likable. It isn’t a role that demands a lot, aside from looking like a badass, which Butler can do in spades. He, as well as Aaron Eckhart, seem to know that they are at the heart of an unbelievably cheesy feature, and have fun with it. Their bromance is the core of LHF, which allows the two to participate in some humor that doesn’t land always, but works sometimes because it is so unabashedly corny. The only place where you’ll find more corn is in a maize field in Iowa. The film also has a returning Morgan Freeman (doing Freeman things at this point), Radha Mitchell, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, and a new edition with Jackie Earle Haley. But, there isn’t anything for them to add to LHF aside from looking in a concerned fashion at the stuff going down in London. The bad guys have been seen various times over.

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Sequels, especially action ones, have been worse than London Has Fallen. Some may differ, but it really isn’t all that different from Olympus. It’s a brainless, semi-shoddy, yet bloody enjoyable (in places) actioner.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to bellyninja.com, ooyuz.com, and aceshowbiz.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson