Takers goes just far enough in looking into the lives of some of its characters that they all feel short-changed. It goes just far enough in eliciting a primary sense of visceral potential in the action sequences that the ultimate reliance on quirky sound mixing and slow motion is disappointing. It goes just far enough in aggrandizing the good life that comes from stealing money that there’s a temptation to watch it from a perspective of exploitation. It goes just far enough to moralize the results of criminal activity that we can only wonder about the rationale for taking the previous two steps.

The movie goes just far enough to start down any of these paths and ends up coming up short on all of them.

The titular characters are a quintet of robbers differentiated by the most basic of attributable qualities. John (Paul Walker) acts as the leader. Gordon (Idris Elba) has the seniority of the group, along with a British accent and a crack-addicted sister (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). Jake (Michael Ealy) and Jesse (Chris Brown) are brothers, with Jake dating a woman played by Zoe Saldana and Jesse sporting a goatee. A.J. (Hayden Christensen) has lots of tattoos and is always wearing his homburg. They’ve just robbed a bank in downtown L.A. and gotten away scot-free (walking away from an exploding helicopter in slow motion for no reason in the process).

An old partner of theirs called Ghost (Tip “T.I.” Harris) has just been released from jail and has a plan for a new heist of an armored truck. Ghost could rat on the gang for the job a few years back that landed him in prison, so, with that threat hanging over their head, they decide to go through with the short-notice robbery.

Any characterization details listed above encompass the full extent of what we learn about these anti-heroes. As a collective, they enjoy their life of ill-begotten gains. They drive luxury cars, wear fancy suits, drink in the private rooms of high-class bars and clubs, and live in extraordinarily furnished and located homes and penthouses (during a scene in which they discuss how they will invest their newly acquired money, they do discuss how they’ll give ten percent to charity, so there’s that). Jake buys his girlfriend a whopper of a diamond ring, and John skinny dips with two women in his pool. Theoretically, one could discuss the group’s possessions as part of their character development, and it would be the only way to give some of these characters traits beyond facial hair (Jesse), fashion (A.J.), and unconvincing performances (Walker and Harris).

On the other side of the law are Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez), L.A. detectives on the gang’s trail. Jack is divorced and sees his daughter on the weekends. He is so obsessed with his job that he follows a hunch about Ghost to see him discussing the theft with the others, chasing after Gordon’s car to write down the license plate number; all the while, Jack’s daughter is with him. Eddie has financial woes and a son with kidney problems.

There’s at least an attempt at fleshing out Jack and Eddie, although, again, it is fairly basic stuff. The script, credited to four screenwriters including director John Luessenhop (Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, and Avery Duff are the other three), spends more time hinting at the crew’s plans as the cops discover details the audience already knows than giving us even one character with whom to connect.

When the day of the robbery finally arrives, it still feels underwhelmed in false tension between the players and the sauntering pace of Jack’s investigation (plus the addition of a police corruption subplot late in the game that is dismissed almost as soon as it’s introduced), but there is a minor flash of possibility when things go wrong and the gang has to improvise.

Instead, though, Luessenhop relies on dropping the volume of gunfire, raising the bass levels on the soundtrack, kicking into random slow motion, and focusing more on quick cuts to sparks than any actual consideration for comprehension. This trend continues in a shootout in a hotel room.

The clichés continue until an anticlimactic Mexican standoff, but before that, Takers shows the price that some of these characters have to pay for their offenses. The lesson, once again, is that crime doesn’t pay, except when it does.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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