Monday, September 19, 2011

The Thrill Is Absent For Anyone Who Has Seen The Previews: Armored Flops.

The Good: Decent premise
The Bad: Poor execution, Cliche character development, Actors are typecast (as opposed to used well).
The Basics: A pretty generic action-heist film, Armored is far too predictable and populated by too many characters the viewer doesn't care about to truly enjoy.

When my partner and I managed to get into the preview screening of Armored, back before it was released, I had a moment of inappropriate laughter. My wife, at the last minute, asked what I had gotten us into and when I told her Armored, she looked at me with a blank expression. I elaborated, "The one with the armored truck guards who arrange a heist" to which she responded, "Didn't we see that already?" At that point, I laughed (as the lights in the theater went down) and with good cause; with all of the movies, especially preview screenings, we saw that year we saw an inordinate number of previews for the film. In fact, the real drawback for us was that having seen the full theatrical trailer so many times, seeing the actual film offered up no real surprises as to what happens in the movie.

This movie could have been a tense, tight action adventure film, but unfortunately, Armored, like Quarantine (reviewed here!) the year before, revealed far too much to audiences in advance and the pathetic thing is, for those who see even the thirty-second trailer, the movie is pretty much ruined. The fundamental problem with Armored is that it is simplistic and the characters, acting and plot all reflect that. The movie is intended to be stylish and human (and as an anti-capitalist, I can certainly appreciate portions of the film's moral and mood), but it belabors itself and once things go wrong, the movie quickly degenerates into the most banal "guys night out" type film where reason, empathy and any sense of quality take a backseat to gunplay, car chases and explosions.

Ty is a hardworking guy who is struggling to make ends meet as an armored car guard. He takes care of his brother, but is in danger of losing the family house to the inflexible bank. Being an upstanding citizen, he attempts to get more hours at work, but finds that in the current economic climate, armored transports are a suffering business. As his probationary period comes to an end, Ty is mortified when his armored truck is hijacked . . . by his friends in an apparent prank.

The prank is more than just a bit of hijinx between the guys; it is a test run for robbing the armored car company of one of its shipments. Led by Cochrane, who initially seems compassionate to Ty's plight, six of the guards look to take a $42 million shipment and get away. Their plan goes off remarkably well, until the group is at their safe location after the actual heist when a cop walks in on them. Most of the group is content to let the officer die, but Ty takes compassion on him and fights to keep him alive. In standing up to his coworkers, Ty ends up in a battle for survival that threatens not only him and the dying officer, but his brother!

Armored is a very basic tale of desperate people dealing with desperate situations and how their best laid (bad) plans come unraveled. Unfortunately, it seems instantly familiar and not just from the previews. First, the plot seems remarkably contrived so none of the reversals actually resonate as truly unique or impressive. Ty is an average guy who is trying to work within the system to survive only to discover just how hard times are. But when he is let in on the planned robbery, his moral core wavers in a predictable way that does not "read" right. Ty goes along with the robbery more because the plot demands it than it is in his character.

Then the movie hinges on reversals and after the initial "scare" with Ty before his probationary period is up, the movie throws the surprises at the viewer in much the same way. There are quick reversals, but because the heist goes off so easily (and so relatively early in the film) the viewer knows there has to be complications. Armored was never going to be a film where a man bemoans losing his house, robs an armored car and then simply goes and pays his bills with the stolen money. So, when the police officer walks in on the celebrating criminals, it is not surprising that he gets shot. Ty barricading himself in with the officer is also unsurprising and the conflict that follows is hard to care about.

Part of the reason for that is that the characters make little sense. Most of the characters are "types" as opposed to individuals. Ty is the poor black man trying to work his way up and protect his family who is just overrun with debts from the inflexible bank. His character is the most problematic because it is so contradictory. He doesn't turn in his coworkers (which would have given him all the hours he wanted) when they let him in on their plan, going with the plan instead. So, he's morally ambiguous. But no, he's not morally ambiguous, because he works so hard to protect the officer and his family. It never seems to cross his mind seriously that with his cut of the money he can pay all his bills, let the cop die and still have enough money to soothe his conscience.

The rest of the characters are even more bland and monolithic, which speaks poorly to the writing of screenwriter James V. Simpson. Baines is a mentor figure with a great technical mind, Quinn is an expert on the wetworks and Cochrane is pretty much a generic villain (though he is a bit more Faustian than obvious in some parts) through most of the movie. There's the wisecracking member of the bunch and as a result, the film is populated by less distinct players than it is by "action-adventure standards."

This becomes even more disappointing when one considers the casting. Prestigious actors and newer performers are given equally mediocre parts to play, but largely Armored is hampered by the way it seems to want good casting to equate to good acting. So, while the presence of Laurence Fishburne (as Baines) and Jean Reno (as Quinn) lends some apparent weight and class to the movie, the performances are well within their expected ranges of greatness. In other words, they give viewers nothing new. This is a pretty common problem with films these days and in Armored it is nowhere more egregious than its use of Matt Dillon. Dillon made it big - for me as someone who never saw the movies of the so-called "Brat Pack" - with his performance of a racist L.A.P.D. officer in Crash (reviewed here!) and he was absolutely phenomenal in the role. Director Nimrod Antal uses Dillon the exact same way, having him deliver lines with a tightlipped sense of seething anger that never makes him seem truly deep . . . or unfamiliar.

But most of the movie hinges on the performance of Columbus Short as Ty. Short play the role as deftly as the script allows, with him convincingly looking beaten down with his body language when he converses with representatives from the bank and conversely strong and proud when taking on the villains. Short has decent emotional range, though the movie eventually degenerates into him yelling, running and looking freaked out. By that point, though, the viewer is unlikely to care about either the quality of his performance or the fate of his character.

I was bored by most of Armored and I was unsurprised when others at the preview screening actually walked out. A couple seated in front of my wife and I had seemed very excited coming into the movie, but they left after the first hour. Perhaps they felt like I did; there was nothing truly new here and it was hard to care about any of the characters, despite all the fastmoving people and cars.

For other works with Laurence Fishburne, check out my reviews of:
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
The Matrix Revolutions
The Matrix Reloaded
The Matrix


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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