REVIEW: Den of Thieves (aka Sam’s Choice Heat)

***Minor Spoilers ahead***

Gerard Butler needs a career intervention. Yes, Geostorm was my favorite bad movie since Independence Day: Resurgence; and, yes, Den of Thieves was directed by the Christian Gudegast, who wrote London Has Fallen (another objectively terrible movie that I love wholeheartedly). However, this movie took all the good will of ironically watching Gerard Butler struggle through an American (Chicago?) accent and put it through the ringer. Den of Thieves is like watching a community theater put on a production of another community theater’s production of Heat. It’s like watching your grandfather slip and fall for 14o (one-hundred-and-forty) minutes without anything you can do. It’s like watching what an alien from another universe try to put together a gritty crime drama after only seeing one episode of a Fox crime drama that was cancelled after five episodes. The year is young, but it is going to be hard to top Den of Thieves as one of the worst movies of the year.

The story is your typical convoluted cops-and-robbers tale with about as much authenticity to it as Bright, and about half the nuance. It’s a movie that thinks it’s setting up its twists and turns in an intricate and well-thought-out fashion, but never actually explains what’s going on. There are flashbacks that are unannounced, what I assume are supposed to be plot twists that are never set up, and strange glimpses into the family lives of cops and robbers that do absolutely nothing to humanize them as much as they do. These include 50 Cent threatening his daughter’s prom date (his home life is never shown again), Gerard Butler accidentally texting his wife instead of his mistress, and Pablo Schreiber’s Ray Merrimen, the leader of crew of thieves being shown leaving prison. There’s also a wild story involving O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s “Hotwire,” playing both sides while also delivering Chinese food and bar tending. Without going into much further detail, the movie does a lot of explaining what doesn’t need to be explained and glosses over bits that could use a little explanation. It’s a crime drama one minute, a comedy the next, a Fast and the Furious ripoff after that, and an emotional family drama after that. It succeeds as none of these things.

To be fair to Mr. Butler, he does not have a whole lot to work with with this movie. After a scenery chewing introduction to his character, “Big Nick” O’Brien, in which he — I kid you not — opens a box of donuts with the splattered blood of either a fallen cop or a fallen robber caked on it from the night before (and the body still inexplicably lying there, to boot), I was all in on this character. He spends the first 30 minutes giving the most hilarious version of what Gerard Butler apparently thinks all-American men sound like. Then, something happens and the character changes for the rest of the movie without much explanation. Sure, we’re left some clues as to why he changed, but there’s never any true epiphany to justify it, and it does not come across as a natural character progression as much as it does a character whose change is given no time to naturally happen. Props to Gerard Butler for trying, and I cannot deny that he does try, but this was a messy caricature that could’ve been written by a twelve-year-old child who had seen half of Heat once, and I would entirely understand.

50 Cent mumbles his way through a role that outside of the aforementioned scene involving his daughter’s prom date, Is never fully given a role or given anything to do. He has never been the second-coming of Marlon Brando, but I am legitimately befuddled as to how he was the best man for this role. There are a lot of other canned characters who you know are tough and gritty cause they have tattoos and handlebar mustaches, and none of them do anything of note. If I am being honest, only two actors come out clean here. O’Shea Jackson Jr. (who really is his father’s doppelgänger circa 1993), actually adds a natural performance among this mess. I haven’t seen him in anything except Straight Out of Compton, but he has shown he can play a character outside of his dad, and I am actually impressed at how well he pulled off a good performance here, despite a flurry of inconceivable plot twists and moments. Pablo Schreiber also adds some humanity to the movie, though the alleged rivalry between his character and Gerard Butler’s is weird, ridiculous, and downright perplexing. It involves Gerard Butler mouthing off to him at a restaurant, sleeping with his girlfriend, and following him to a gun range. None of these, save for the girlfriend scene, do anything to further the plot, and there is never anything done to justify their connection.

By about 90 minutes in I was relieved to know that this movie had to be almost over. Oh, how naive I was to think such a thing. I do not mind a two-and-a-half hour movie, but it is good to actually make something happen within those two-and-a-half hours if you are going to do such a thing. Nothing in this movie’s plot actually forwards anything. There’s a bank robbery, a heist, a chase scene, and a shootout in a remarkably empty block of Los Angeles that never seem to do anything. There’s an emotional connection between Butler and Schreiber that never even tries to make sense. There’s millions of things wrong about this movie, and I almost have to recommend it so you can see them for yourselves. Den of Thieves is everything that Heat is not. A bad, forgettable, tedious, and downright stupid film. May God have mercy on everyone involved in its production.

*1/2 (out of 5)

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