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A bad rip-off

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves
2 stars
Director: Christian Gudegast
Stars: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O’Shea Jackson Jr.
Duration: 140 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

Den of Thieves opens on a night scene as we track an armoured truck making its way along a Los Angeles highway. The accompanying opening credits tell us that LA is the bank robbery capital of the world, with a robbery occurring every 48 minutes.

Just as we are fed this nugget of information, the truck pulls up outside a doughnut shop, only to be hit by a gang of men in black body armour, their faces covered with masks.

Four dead bodies and multiple injuries later, the armoured truck is driven away by the perpetrators.  And yet, the truck is empty – and they know it. This is obviously part of some nefarious plan.

On the trail of these badass bank robbers is a team of worse-ass cops led by Detective Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) who, when trying to anticipate the gang’s next move, finds himself in a battle of wits with the gang leader Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber).

A predictable, loophole-filled plot and cardboard characters

With its ‘gritty’ LA setting and clash between its cop and robber protagonist, it does not need much of a leap of the imagination to see that Den of Thieves is an obvious homage (not to say rip-off) of director Michael Mann’s seminal 1995 heist movie Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert de Niro. But this is a tepid, timid imitation, with a predictable, loophole-filled plot, and cardboard characters.

The script by Christian Gudegast, who also makes his directorial debut here, builds the plot on a series of contrivances that require a gargantuan suspension of disbelief – from the moment O’Brien figures out who the gang members are after barely five minutes of investigation; to his and his team’s illegal interrogation of one of the suspects in the middle of a drink-and-hooker fuelled party; to the final twist, which is much less mind-boggling than it is yawn-inducing.

The turgid dialogue is made up of a litany of tough-guy clichés and some downright clunkers – “you’re not the bad guys, we are,” growls O’Brien to the aforementioned suspect at one point.

The characters are laughingly one-dimensional, with not a single redeeming feature among them, on either side of the law. The script goes out of its way to paint them as a bunch of tough guys, all swagger and attitude, muscular and tattooed.

The robbers are depicted as little more than cold-blooded killers, and the cops are only marginally less amoral with their penchant for kidnapping suspects and beating them up. “It would be easier to kill you, less paperwork,” says O’Brien at one point, and the film would have you believe this is plausible, for no one is around to supervise their behaviour.

They are characters who are so obnoxious it is impossible to really engage with them or, ultimately, care. The puny attempts to humanise them are either unintentionally funny (O’Brien in tears because he can’t see his daughters, after his wife (Dawn Olivieri, doing what she can with the wife-of-a-cheating-cop role) leaves him; or downright disturbing – as in a scene where Merrimen’s right-hand man Enson Levoux (Curtis ‘50 cent’ Jackson) meets his daughter’s boyfriend and subjects him to a pretty uncomfortable tête-à-tête.

It is yet another toneless role from Butler, who seems to make a habit of taking on these flat, touch-guy, square-jawed characters with little depth or complexity. Schreiber and the rest of the cast fare just as badly while, apart from O’Brien’s wife, the women are strippers or hookers.

The action is just what you’d expect from this sort of film – with endless gunfights and the exchange of thousands of bullets leaving many bodies in their wake.

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