Silver Screen: Takers *1/2

Silver Screen: Takers  *1/2
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Silver Screen: Takers *1/2
Bryan Miller

Back in 2002, BMW commissioned several high-profile directors, including Ang Lee, Guy Ritchie, and John Woo, to shoot a series of ten-minute short films called The Hire. The action-movie vignettes were self-contained stories that were unrelated, save for the protagonist, the Driver, played by Clive Owen, who averted disaster thanks to his speedy, sporty BMW.

The heist movie Takers is what would happen if a cabal of jewelers, cigar makers, men's fashion designers, liquor distributors, and car manufacturers pooled their money to commission a single feature film, only without the A-list directors and Clive Owen. There's not even really product placement in Takers, just people placement among the products. The whole endeavor plays like a catalogue adapted for the big screen, with exactly the kind of dialogue viewers would expect from a movie based on a catalogue.

Rapper T.I. and rhythm-and-blues singer Chris Brown costar in and coproduce this wannabe slick crime flick, which is like Ocean's Eleven without all that intrusive charisma getting in the way. Brown is one among a crew of dapper bank robbers who pull off a major caper every year or two and live large on the spoils in the interim.

Brown's Jesse is joined by masterminds A.J. and Gordon (Hayden Christensen and Idris Elba), as well as pragmatist Jake (Michael Ealy) and ice-cold gunman John (Paul Walker). A few years back they botched a job that left teammate Ghost (T.I.) wounded and in police custody. He languishes for the length of a presidential term, never ratting out his boys, then returns suddenly and mysteriously from the joint with a brand-new scheme already in place.

The rest of the boys are still riding high from a bank job pulled just days before Ghost's release. They're dubious about his caper, and his motivations, but he convinces them that the $20 million payout will be worth the risk. But is Ghost planning a job, or revenge-- or will a dedicated cop (Matt Dillon) and his maybe-crooked partner (Jay Hernandez) catch up to the crew and foil the best-laid plans?

Not only is Takers lifestyle porn for would-be thug entrepreneurs, but it's also the most generic of action flicks, the kind of movie where someone inevitably is going to walk away in slow motion as something behind them explodes. When Ghost tells his boys, "I say we go Italian Job on that ass," he might as well be telling the director what heist movie they'll be ripping off that day. The material is so derivative that Dillon already appeared in it about this time last year, when it was called Armored, and he was playing one of the not-so-honorable thieves planning to knock over a truck full of money instead of the cop pursuing said crooks. Same schtick, different day.

The only thing that could save a movie so tediously familiar is an outstanding cast, the way Pitt, Clooney, Damon, and company helped make Steven Soderbergh's style-over-substance Rat Pack revamp and its sequels fun despite their inherent frivolity. Replace the Holy Triumvirate of Hollywood Hunks with Hayden Christensen, Paul Walker, and a random radio star, however, and the results are just plain ugly. Chris Brown couldn't convincingly play a shitty singer who beats his popstar girlfriend, and the snake-eyed T.I. is utterly mono-emotional. One of the movie's few real assets, Zoe Saldana, is utterly wasted in what basically amounts to a cameo performance as Ghost's ex-girlfriend, now hanging off Jake's arm. She's cruelly reduced to another prop, no different than the beautiful suits and sports cars the boys use to demonstrate their status.

There are two for-real actors in the mix: Idris Elba and Michael Ealy have gravitas to spare. They lend the movie a fleeting credibility that evaporates as soon as the camera cuts away to their lesser costars. If there's anything to take from Takers, it's that these two intense performers could turn a Timex into a Rolex with the power of their personalities. Put these two in another movie together without the distractions of wannabes and pretty boys and the results are guaranteed combustible. Maybe next time.