A laid-back yet very imperfect heist film that can still be a decent time filler thanks to some involving plot twists and both lead actors being well-used.
Plot: Masterful lock breaker, Frank (Michael Chiklis, The Commish), is knocked-out during a seemingly straightforward heist, only to wake up and find his conspiring brother, Joe (Tyler Jon Olsen, Heist), dead. The contractor, Rex (Bruce Willis, Die Hard series), is furious about the chaos and notices all of his 3-men who he sent along with Frank are mysteriously missing so he sends in his hitwoman, Ivory (Lydia Hull, Escape Plan trilogy) while demanding that conspiring partner, Richard (Texas Battle, Coach Carter), give them more time before all bets are off. Meanwhile, Frank decides to guard his widowed sister-in-law, Claire (Meadow Williams, Den of Thieves), and make his own getaway while unleashing his revenge on those he believes murdered Joe and made this heist go berserk in the first place.
Review: Grindstone/Lionsgate and Emmett/Furla collaborate on yet another low-budgeted yet still mainstream looking action film, where they again employ star Bruce Willis and director Brian A. Miller, once again to hit-and-miss results. Bruce has shown a decent presence in some projects while coming off as disinterested in other ones. Director Miller once again fuels the proceedings with what he often does by injecting Heat-type shoot-outs, Usual Suspects type mystery, Dog Day Afternoon grit and Taken type one-man-army vengeance.
So let’s get one thing out of the way: Bruce looked interested here and was crucial to the plot for once. He has given bored performances before in Miller’s previously messy sci-fi opus Vice, hammed it up in Setup and Precious Cargo, and been rather reasonable in Fire With Fire and Marauders. We can agree and disagree all day on which of those films he truly worked well in or not but I’m mainly concerned if he’s just being well-used and not coming off as pretentious in the current releases. Every other indie film is released in theaters alongside with VOD accompanying it and until Emmett/Furla get tired of this strategy, he’s going to keep being their wingman.
Miller has shown an eye for often having neo-noir type flourishes and, like the similarly named Steven C. Miller, often done decent action-mysteries that are either engaging if too predictable or films that just too poorly over-edited with trivial under-developed plots. Sometimes he shows that he has a love for the action-crime genre by injecting tons of gunplay, reasonable visuals and revenge melodrama while other times having overdone exposition and over-edited junky moments. Here, we ended up getting a bit of both elements and the plot is rather similar to Miller’s last heist mystery actioner, Backtrace, which starred a similarly paycheck-savvy Sylvester Stallone. At the end of the day, I think we can all agree that this was never going to seek any award shows out, just be another B-action genre winner or loser.
The movie was continually fast-paced and not notable but I found it to be better done overall thanks to Miller utilizing Michael Chiklis rather well as the surprisingly likable thief. Chiklis has gotten lots of edgier roles following his iconic role as lawbreaking vice cop Vic Mackey on The Shield and once again makes an impression as a surprisingly everyday man type guy who just so happens to want to make one more non-violent robbery. Chiklis’ Frank character doesn’t chew scenery and is almost as vicious as his villainous role in 2013’s Parker but remains a complete anti-hero. He surprisingly mostly avoided portraying the character of Frank as a Vic clone but near the end when he spewed that “You greedy bitch!” line, comparisons were still inevitable. Overall, he pulled it off well- so well that everyone else just looked like amateurs compared to him.
So while Bruce got to talk intensely over a phone and Mike got to deliver on the revenge aspect, every other portion of this production varied in quality. Part of this seems to be Miller’s fault in that he’s either not doing enough takes or hiring editors who need to make a few more edits before claiming this is the final cut. This has been an issue with Miller’s previous productions so as a result I wasn’t surprised when I saw the Claire sister character start out giving a partially mediocre performance but improving later as the movie went along. I also found the dialogue to vary as it was reasonable one minute and other times seeming like it only existed as schlocky over-explaining. I don’t expect perfection but I hope that Miller will actually screen his work to some peers and see where he can improve in the future. He’s not Uwe Boll terrible but he’s still aways away from being another big commercial blockbuster guy who can helm a Jerry Bruckheimer type film. I don’t know if he truly is not being given enough time to prep or just has some nitpick-worthy flaws that could use some strengthening but he should figure out something. Maybe he should watch some films by the late great Tony Scott or DTV regular contributors like Isaac Florentine and Keoni Waxman.
Back on to the plot, some of you can see coming while some of it wasn’t immediately interesting as it wasn’t completely detailed until either late or at all. For instance, the opening robbery shoot-out felt not that exciting but was rather cool when they revealed the various plot twists and did a Rashomon style alternate take on what actually happened. I also cared nothing for Frank’s brother Joe before or after he died because I knew nothing about him . I knew that Frank loved him and claimed later that he did this job to get his post-prison life back on track but there could not had been a more undeveloped sibling character in recent history that I could think of. I didn’t consider this too huge a deal since it became early on that this film just wanted to not waste any time with the set-up and that the focus was all on Frank but it would not had hurt to have had either a better actor or at least an extra development scene with the two brothers while they were robbing the place.
Adding to the list of pros was the hotel where housed one of the escaped robbers as well as an illegal underground surgeon office. This added some much needed world building in addition to Rex’s hitwoman getting in Frank’s way at every spot. Adding to another con was that the jewelry that was the basis for the whole heist was barely seen either due to laziness or the film wanting to focus more on the other chaos but this could’ve done the film more favors had we seen some more detailing of what it is exactly that everyone is so willing to kill to have.
This film joins the likes of other stylish cops-and-robbers and crime mysteries like Brooklyn’s Finest, Takers, Sabotage, Marauders, Triple 9 and Den of Thieves. I personally wouldn’t rank it as high as one of those as while there were some decent plot twists and it did its best to hide its budget, it still took awhile to get anywhere despite never dragging. The ending also was unimaginative but those who have been paying attention the whole time should understand that it isn’t out of place with the whole “tough luck” tone. I don’t need a heist film to be the next Asphalt Jungle or Reservoir Dogs, just deliver some decent theft and getaways sometimes. For those seeking laid-back fun and who want to see another fun excuse to see Chiklis kick some butt, dial this up. For those disappointed by Willis’ last dozen offerings, you could certainly do worse as he did his part here without seeming forced at gunpoint like he does half the time. I always have low-expectations with these type of recent actioners and if you go in just wanting some alright plot twists and aren’t the type who needs something game-changing, then you should be fine with this without feeling like your time was absolutely stolen.
In the future, I hope that Emmett/Furla can improve by getting better writers and even more starpower as opposed to 3 big names maximum and mostly beginning writers. It certainly would take much to get lucrative low-budget action guys like Jesse V. Johnson to helm one of their films. Derek Kolstad was doing lots of these films before writing for bigger fare like the John Wick franchise so why not spend more money utilizing his efforts versus getting too many stars than one can afford?