Film Review: Den of Thieves (dir by Christian Gudegast)


Den of Thieves is quite simply one of the most exhausting films that I’ve ever sat through.

It’s not just that the film itself is overly long, though that’s definitely an issue.  (Den of Thieves last 2 hours and 20 minutes.  For the sake of comparison, that’s 17 minutes longer than last year’s best picture winner, The Shape of Water.)  Instead, the real problem is that there’s really not a single unexpected moment to be found in Den of Thieves.  Every cliché imaginable shows up in Den of Thieves and, after a while, the film’s predictability becomes a bit much to take.

It’s a bank heist film.  We know that because it opens with a strangely portentous title card that informs us that more banks are robbed in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the country.  This is one of those heist films where a self-destructive police detective goes head-to-head with a ruthless yet sympathetic criminal mastermind.  If you’re thinking that this sounds a lot like Heat, you’re right.  In fact, imagine if they remade Heat without any of the stuff that made Heat more than just another crime film and you have a pretty good idea what you’re going to get with Den of Thieves.

The detective is named Big Nick O’Brien (Gerard Butler) and we know he’s a badass because he’s got a lot of tattoos and a beard and when he’s not busting criminals, he’s either getting drunk or getting served with divorce papers.  Nick’s an asshole but that’s okay because Nick … NICK GETS RESULTS, GODDAMMIT!  Nick has a crew that’s devoted to him.  Of course, a lot of them will be dead by the end of the movie.  That’s just the way things go when you’re living in a clichéd crime film.

Big Nick wants to take down Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber), who is a former marine turned bank robber.  We know that Merrimen is a badass because he’s got a beard and he’s got even more tattoos than Nick!  In fact, his entire crew is covered with tattoos!  You have to wonder how smart these criminals are, all getting body art that will make it very easy for the police to identify them.  But they’re a good crew.  In fact … THEY’RE THE BEST!  THEY GET RESULTS!  And only Nick can take them down because … ONLY THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST CAN TAKE DOWN THE MOTHERFUCKING BEST, GODDAMMIT!

Sorry, am I yelling a lot?  This is one of those films where everyone yells a lot.  Basically, this entire movie is drenched in testosterone.  This is one of those films where no one gets interrogated with getting knocked around beforehand and where every meeting is some sort of confrontation.  When the end credits rolled, I was shocked to learn that some of these people actually had names.  Just from listening to the dialogue, I assumed everyone in the film was named “Motherfucker.”

And again, it just all gets exhausting after a while.  Maybe if Den of Thieves had been a 90 minute action flick or had featured any of the self-aware humor of Baby Driver, it would have been entertainingly dumb.  But 140 minutes is a long time to spend with a bunch of thinly drawn stereotypes.

Now, there are two positive things that can be said about Den of Thieves.

First off, one of the thieves is played by O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and he’s got enough screen presence that he can overcome some clunky scenes.  (A scene where he’s interrogated by the police literally seems to go on forever.)

Secondly, the film itself looks great.  The film’s opening scenes do a good job of capturing Los Angeles’s unique mix of grit and glitz.  The opening shootout is pretty well-done and briefly suggests some promise on which the film ultimately doesn’t deliver.

Anyway, Den of Thieves came out this January and despite middling reviews, it did well enough at the box office to earn itself a sequel.  So, in 2020, look forward to more scenes of Gerard Butler … GETTING RESULTS!

Playing Catch-Up: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (dir by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone)


Have you heard of Conner4Real?

If you haven’t, you’re probably just old or else you don’t keep up with what’s happening in the world of popular music.  His real name is Conner Friel and he used to be a member of the Style Boyz.  Of course, the Style Boyz eventually broke up.  Kid Brain became a farmer.  Kid Contact became a DJ.  And Kid Conner — well, he became Conner4Real and he became a bigger star as a solo artist than he ever was as a Style Boy.  His debut album, Thriller, Also, broke records.

But the follow-up, Connquest … well, Connquest wasn’t quite as acclaimed.  In fact, it was hated by just about everyone.  This is despite featuring classic songs like:

Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)

Mona Lisa

and Equal Rights (featuring P!nk).

Fortunately, when Conner4Real was facing his greatest existential crisis, a film crew was present to record his struggle.  For those of us who were fascinated by the career of Conner4Real, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a chance to see how Conner dealt with everything from his terminally ill pet turtle to the elaborate marriage proposal ceremony that led to Seal being attacked by wild wolves.  We would have gotten to see Conner and his manager defeat a swarm of mutant bees but, unfortunately, that happened right after the only time that Conner’s manager asked the film crew to stop filming.

Oh well, these things happen.

So, as you should have guessed from all that, Popstar is not a serious film.  It’s a mockumentary, with the emphasis on mock.  It was also one of the funniest films of 2016, a spot-on parody of the silliness and pretensions of fame.  Conner is a combination of Justin Bieber and Macklemore at their shallowest, a well-meaning but thoroughly empty-headed singer.  In fact, if Conner was played by anyone other than Andy Samberg, he would be so annoying that the film would run the risk of being unwatchable.

But fortunately, Conner is played by Andy Samberg.  It’s hard to think of anyone who plays dumb with quite the same panache as Andy Samberg does.  There are plenty of lines in Popstar that shouldn’t work but they do, specifically because they’re being delivered by Samberg.  He brings just the right amount of sweetly sincere stupidity to the role.  Almost despite yourself, you find yourself hoping that things will work out for Conner and the other Style Boyz.  Conner may not deserve to be as big a star as he is but it was obviously going to happen to some idiot so why not a sincere one?

Samberg is not the only funny person in Popstar.  The movie is full of funny people, from Sarah Silverman to Bill Hader to the always underrated Tim Meadows.  It’s also full of celebrity cameos and I have to admit that I usually tend to cringe when I see too many people playing themselves.  But in Popstar, it works.  One need only rewatch something like Zoolander 2 to see how well Popstar pulls off its celebrity cameos.

Sadly, as funny as Popstar was, it was also one of the biggest bombs of 2016.  (The trailer, it must be said, did not do the film justice.)  However, I expect that it will soon develop a strong cult following.  In a few years, we’ll get a sequel.  It probably won’t be as as good.

Oh well.  These things happen.