Literally, from the first scene, it’s clear that Den of Thieves is going to be a Bargain Bin version of Heat. That being said, if there’s one thing it excels at, it’s being a Bargain Bin version of Heat.
Not every movie can explore new territory. Some of them, most of them in fact, are going to retread tropes and ideas that you’ve seen in countless other movies before. Christian Gudegast, the writer, and director of Den of Thieves is clearly a well-studied student of action cinema. His movie, while creative in certain aspects, is primarily a collection of a la carte scenes plucked from other flicks in the genre. A shootout from Sicario here, a heist sequence from Ocean’s Eleven there, and, yes, lots and lots of Heat. Now, if you can get past all of this and accept that this isn’t exactly Terra Nova, you can have a pretty okay time with Den of Thieves. The premise starts out simple enough. There’s a team of abnormally adept thieves looking to rob the Federal Reserve pitted against a team of abnormally adept detectives led by Gerard Butler looking to thwart their grandiose plans. From there, Gudegast muddies up an already decent at best script into several perfunctory threads and scenes that get tangled up like a pair of cheap headphones. The movie’s also inexplicably 140 minutes long so…there’s that. With a good script doctor this film could have been a lot better, but simply winds up being a mostly entertaining experience drifting from time to time into being unnecessarily self-indulgent, if not absurd uncredited homage to better films.
The plain truth is that if you’re an unabashed fan of the action movie genre you’re going to get something fun out of this film. There are some nifty sequences and it keeps you awake for the most part with some well-placed police jargon and unrealistically inventive burglary hijinks. The acting is about what you’d expect, I mean, 50 Cent is in the film. Gerard Butler is more serviceable here than he has been in most of his recent projects, but he starts to overstay his welcome after a while. His character is a loose cannon “Bad Lieutenant,” something they make clear with the many, many scenes of his obnoxious antics. He was likable enough for a while but after about the eighth time they did the whole, “Oh boy, he shouldn’t have done that,” bit it really started to get old. Gudegast really wanted to humanize his character and dedicated quite a bit of screentime to cutting him down to size. One notable instance of these is a sequence in which his wife leaves him with the kids. This is without a doubt the best scene in the film and would have been enough background for the character but, alas, there were multiple more similar scenes that just felt like filler. Did I mention that the movie’s almost two and a half hours long?
The film’s saving grace is a standout performance of O’Shea Jackson Jr. as the wheelman and liaison between the warring states of Los Angeles. He brought a relaxed charisma to an otherwise cheesily self-assured ensemble that was consistently refreshing. Like I said previously, the film does have some unique ideas in it and one or two genuinely strong scenes. The actual heist part was, for its credit, pretty fresh, but it couldn’t help but feel like the screenwriter had a great idea for a heist and basically no ideas for the rest of the plot and kind of stuck a bunch of story points on a bulletin board and said, “Yeah let’s keep all that in.” If you find yourself renting this on Redbox in a few months, you can have a great time falling asleep to it at midnight. It’s perfect for that viewing experience. As for in a movie theater? Better get the small soda.
All images are from Den of Thieves, a film by STX Entertainment.