Takers assembles a motley crew of handsome men, decks them out in stylish suits and top hats, adds a dollop of crime, and shoots for the moon – literally (yes, a character points his fingers at the moon and fires). Director John Luessenhop wants to craft an eloquent, pseudo-vintage crime drama out of mundane clichés. With just enough of an aesthete’s vision, a robust collection of photogenic actors (including the ridiculously beautiful Zoe Saldana), an R&B infused soundtrack, and some exciting, upper class heist action, he mostly fulfills that ambition.

There’s not much more to be expected from a late summer picture likely to be all but forgotten come the start of the fall movie season next week. With expectations naturally diminished, it’s possible to sit through Takers, enjoy the scenery and have a good time, even if Luessenhop’s thriller often adopts the “too cool for school” affectations of a meticulously blocked advertisement.

Idris Elba and Paul Walker play the leaders of a posse of high-end thieves that love Italian suits and sleek under-lit clubs with leather chairs, marble counters, and shiny cocktail glasses. Also: smooth handling machine guns and loading up with enough cash to support indulgences such as a Hollywood Hills home sporting full glass windows overlooking an overflowing pool framed against panoramic views of the city below.

As the film opens, the outfit (which also includes Hayden Christensen, Chris Brown and Michael Ealy) has pulled off another of its improbable, midday thefts. Preparing to skip town for awhile, they’re instead drawn by ex-mate/recent parolee, Ghost (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, who should stick to his day job) into an improbable scheme to rob an armored truck in the middle of traffic clogged L.A. Matt Dillon, who never brings less than total conviction to his parts, plays cop Jack Welles, devoted to bringing them down while running afoul of his superiors with unorthodox methods, etc. etc.

Takers delivers what you’d expect, but in so doing the screenplay (credited to Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, Luessenhop and Avery Duff) smartly avoids the most mundanely plotted path. The filmmakers craft a world wherein heroes and villains cannot be easily defined, and the various characters enmesh in ways that suggest several possible narrative outcomes. Audience sympathies lie on both sides of the cop-robber divide because counterparts Elba and Dillon so adeptly lay bare their complex, conflicting motivations. The usual cachet of dramatic expectations is subtly overturned, keeping things interesting on a broader, contextual level even as some scenes devolve into innocuousness.

Luessenhop employs slow motion, faded silhouettes and other techniques that lend a veneer of class to the production. Rather than halfheartedly indulging in the usual predictable monotony, the filmmaker successfully brings some color to it. That a measure of conceptual creativity also has been incorporated into the action set pieces, which have a certain elaborate pizzazz, is almost more than one could ask for in what by all measures should be a minor, forgettable work. Put another way, Takers is bland, vanilla ice cream, disguised by all the right toppings.

The Upside: The movie is a classy, reasonably suspenseful thriller with a definite artistic vision at its core.

The Downside: Hayden Christensen. T.I. Sometimes, the film’s too slick.

On the Side: Takers deserves better than to be released during one of the worst movie weekends of the year, when literally no one is paying attention.

Grade: B


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