Review – A Heist Movie That Needed Zombies (“Army of Thieves”)

Remember Netflix’s original movie, Army of the Dead, back in May? This is a prequel to that film. Set six years before the horrifying zombie apocalypse destroyed Vegas, this film centers on the first movie’s quirky, wisecracking German safecracker, Ludwig Deter.

In Germany, Matthias Schweighöfer plays a timid, master safecracker & historian named Sebastian (who later becomes Deter) that makes YouTube videos. His latest is about four very rare “uncrackable” safes made by the legendary Hans Wagner. They are: the Rheingold, located in Paris, the Valkyrie, which is in a Prague bank, the Seigfried inside a Swiss casino, and the mythical Götterdämmerung, first thought lost at sea, but is now at a Las Vegas Hotel (see the first movie). Anyway, Sebastian is soon recruited (via a safecracking “cage match”) by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), a super-thief and leader of a small group that is planning a crazy heist.

She needs a master-safecracker and gets Sebastian to join her rag-tag group of experts: computer hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver and sandwich lover Rolph (Guz Khan), and runway model handsome Brad Cage (Stuart Martin) for muscle & weapons. Their objective? Hit all three of these fabled safes and make off with all the loot inside. Sounds simple, right? After the first heist goes off pretty textbook (they even joke about movie heist tropes!), their robbery makes Interpol sit up, and that brings out on-the-edge agent Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) and his smarter partner, Beatrix (Noémie Nakai). Delacroix has a history with these crooks and will stop at nothing to catch them!

Meanwhile, a sorta love triangle is forming with Sebastian, Gwen, and possessive Brad. But there’s a safe to crack in Prague and that’s where trouble brews and jealousy rears its ugly head. They say there’s no honor amongst thieves, and when the team barely escapes this heist, sides are drawn, leaving Sebastian to fend for himself. BUT! There’s one safe left, the impressive and magnificent Seigfried, and Sebastian can’t resist taking a crack at cracking that sucker open. However, can he still trust the partners he’s left with? What about the police that are closing in? And what happened to his cat allergy? How did that just disappear?

Shay Hatten, who co-wrote Army of the Dead and John Wick 3: Parabellum has pretty much taken the plotline and characters from 2003’s The Italian Job and repurposed them into this semi-fun little romp with Schweighöfer reprising his role as the goofy safecracker who, very often,  screams like a little schoolgirl when scared. There are about 80 heist films, this one having nothing new or special to say, unlike its sequel which had a hoard of the walking dead to play with. THAT’S what this movie needed. Zombies! Lots of them! It’s your A-typical heist film with group planning, pulling the job off, back-stabbing, dissension in the gang with a redemption arc thrown in, yadda-yadda-yadda.

At least Schweighöfer serves not only as a lovable character, but as the director as well! He’s made a few films in his native Germany and he’s got a great eye for action and a certain flair for Chaplin-like comedy. Plus, the location filming is breathtaking! Emmanuel is wonderful and has some nice Jane Wick moments, while Fee is quite likable as the computer hacker, Korina, and serves as comedic relief along with Khan, who needed more screen time. As much as I wanted to love this movie, because of the connection to the other, I struggled. Although the stakes were high, the cracking of these “uncrackable” safes seemed all too easy. There was way too much downtime and not enough action to sustain this film’s runtime.

**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix 

The Italian Job (2003)

Itself a remake of the 1969 British import, this light-hearted, high-voltage thrill ride is loaded with car stunts, a terrific cast, and a great story of getting even. While it’s not the seventh in some franchise (Fast & Furious), it still has a band of skilled misfits/experts getting together to pull off a heist with cars, and that suits me just fine.

Starting off with an extraordinary gold bullion robbery in Venice, Italy, it finishes with a betrayal (and murder) later in the Swiss Alps. Years later we see Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron), a professional safecracker whose father (Donald Sutherland) was the one betrayed and killed by super-nasty and evil, Steve (Edward Norton). He ripped off everyone, stole all the gold, and is now living in luxury in the hills of L.A. Vowing revenge for all that stolen loot (and the death of his mentor), is master thief Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg).

But Charlie can’t do this alone, so he assembles a crack team of crooks and experts in eclectic fields for stealing back the gold. He gets ace driver, Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), computer whiz-kid and irritating nerd, Napster (Seth Green), and explosives genius, Left Ear (Mos Def). Hooking up with Stella, the plan is to rob Steve’s home, but that plan backfires when Steve catches wise to their plans. After killing his Ukrainian gold-to-cash money guy, Steve has to quickly move all his gold surplus for safekeeping. Using three souped-up Mini-Cooper’s, Charlie and his gang spring into action with crazy and elaborate schemes, explosions, computer street signal switching, and a classic bait ‘n’ switch to capture the gold.

With a wonderful, fun, and entertaining script by Donna and Wayne Powers (Deep Blue Sea, Valentine) and crackerjack direction by F. Gary Gray (Fate of the Furious, Law Abiding Citizen), you couldn’t go wrong here. The story is your basic revenge yarn coupled with a Fast ‘n’ Furious car chase through Hollywood with a little Ocean’s Eleven thrown in for good measure. It could have been dark, boring, and remedial, but the actors and smart screenplay pull a hat trick and make it fresh, humorous, and a whole lotta fun to watch.

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