Movie Review: Den of Thieves
A paint-by-numbers cops and robbers movies explores the depths of just how little you can care about its characters. By the end, you don’t care who lives, dies, or gets away with the cash– you just want it to be over.
Filled with almost as many tired tropes (honorable thieves, dirty cops) as bullets in the finale, its plot is full of almost as many holes as its cast is by the end of the film. Seriously, any Star Wars “fan” who complained about plot holes in The Last Jedi, just go watch Den of Thieves. You deserve this movie. To remind you what an actual bad movie is.
This film, which feels every second of its bloated 2 hour and 20 minute runtime and somehow inexplicably even longer, feels like it was written an assembled by 10 teams of people each given part of a script outline and told to go write and film it, and then run together as part of an experimental film festival. Oh, but no, this apparently came from the mind of one person, writer and director Christian Gudegast, “best” known for having “written” the ridiculous London Has Fallen.
Here’s the rundown: Gerard Butler (who also served as producer) plays the head of the LA Sheriff’s Department Major Crimes unit. As they tell O’Shea Jackson, Jr. when shaking him down for information, they’re more “regulators” than cops, and they’d rather put a bullet in you than arrest you– less paperwork. (If only that were cogent enough to be social commentary, it might be something, but it’s so ham-fisted it completely misses the mark.) Yeah, get it? They’re baaaaad cops.
And they’re on the trail of an elite team of bank robbers– ex-Marines who have pulled several daring heists in the past and gotten away with it. Their target is the incredibly secure and never-been-robbed-before Federal Reserve of Los Angeles. And so the first two-thirds of the film plays out like many a heist movie before: putting the pieces of the plan together to lead up to a break-neck finale.
Most great heist films lead us to identify with the thieves, but this inexplicably spends huge amounts of time with Butler, whom the film can’t decide if we should love or hate. His department colleagues, meanwhile, get zero character development and are just there as bodies to be collateral damage in a final, inevitable shootout. They really want Butler to be Serpico or Bad Lieutenant, but he just isn’t. We don’t love to hate him. We don’t love the heart of gold inside the broken, complicated man. We sort of just write him off as a giant douche and don’t care if he lives or dies.
Ditto for the team of thieves. It would be something if we knew why they were trying to pull this. Somebody’s baby needs a surgery. They have a beef with “The Man” and are going to take him down. But they seem intent on robbing the Federal Reserve, like George Mallory and Everest, “because it’s there.”
Lacking any motivation other than to just be wheels and cogs in a machine, the film plays out predictably and boringly. Even the inevitable reveal at the end feels forced, and really wasn’t that unexpected, assuming you were paying attention. It’s about the farthest thing from a Keyser Soze moment.
And then there’s the hanging plot threads. It’s just awful. Minor Spoiler Alert: Jackson’s character, supposedly recruited for his skills as a getaway driver, never even gets to drive a getaway vehicle. Why build up his skills early in the movie when there’s no payoff? And then the thieves get caught up by the most mundane of all reasons: LA traffic.
It’s just terrible. By the end, you don’t care who lives and who dies, and you kind of don’t want either side to win because they’re both just awful. In an attempt to give both sides layers, all they succeeded in doing was making you sort of hate everyone.
And while Butler really needs to tone down his scenery chewing (and start picking better projects– between this, Geostorm, and Gods of Egypt, this is three strikes in a row. Anything more and you end up in Adam Sandler territory), O’Shea Jackson, Jr. is somehow extremely watchable. He’s wildly charismatic, even in this shitshow of a film. But rather than subject yourself to an above-average performance in a terrible movie, treat yourself by watching him instead in a good movie, like last year’s overlooked Ingrid Goes West, where he portrays a struggling Batman-obsessed screenwriter. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait two years to see him next in the highly-anticipated sequel Godzilla: King of Monsters or the Seth Rogan comedy Flarsky, both in 2019.
Despite looking like a disaster of a crime scene, this is one where you can take the advice of the beat cop saying, “Nothing to see here, folks– move along.” The only thing this movie steals is two and a half hours of your life.
1.5 out of 5