Red flags don't always signal disaster

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010

You are out driving on a sunny, Juneau day in mid-September. Just as you are starting to feel borderline-giddy about your situation, though, the station wagon in front of you starts braking. It is not immediately clear why; there is no turn signal. More braking. It is still unclear why. Braking, braking, braking... and suddenly your pleasant drive on a sunny, Juneau day in mid-September is becoming irritating.

The station wagon finally flicks on its turn signal and makes a turn, and you get back to driving like an intelligent human being. That behavior, by the way - I am referring to the driver of the station wagon - is a red flag. Judging a book by its cover? You bet. Maybe that person, if you got to know them, would turn out to be really good at everything else other than driving with common sense. Maybe, maybe not. Still, the red flag pops up with every unnecessary tap of their brake lights.

When the action movie "Takers" arrives in Juneau tomorrow, it comes with its own red flags. Namely, cast members Hayden Christensen (one of the few I would put below Steven Seagal on the talent list), T.I. (rapper turned apparent actor), and Chris Brown (alleged Rihanna rougher-upper) all represent their own individual red flags. So does the fact that there are four screenwriters credited with the writing of an action movie.

Just as the driver of that station wagon might prove to be okay otherwise, though, "Takers" actually succeeds despite its red flags. The story features two groups of people. Group one, the "Takers" the title refers to, is made up of Gordon (Idris Elba), John (Paul Walker), Jesse (Brown), A.J. (Christensen), and Jake (Michael Ealy). They are a rather stylish Los Angeles crew dedicated to, well, taking whatever they want; in case there is any confusion, they do not take legally.

Group two is the police, namely Detectives Jack Welles (Matt Dillon) and Eddie Hatcher (Jay Hernandez). We have seen this game play out countless times before on screen. "Takers" is about a group of men that we can sort of root for, except they are criminals and there are lines we cannot let them cross as audience members if we are to remain in their corner. The cops, normally the good guys, are so flawed themselves (Welles is so obsessed with work he neglects his daughter, while Hatcher proves to be dirty) that it is not an automatic to root for them blindly, either. No matter which group you choose to get behind, there is an inevitable showdown where their paths will eventually cross.

Somebody wins. Somebody loses. Or at least that is how it usually works.

Maybe it was having four screenwriters that could not agree on which character should live happily ever after, but what makes "Takers" unique is that there is no clear winner when the credits roll. Instead there are just degrees of losing. Jesse seals his fate when he crosses that line I mentioned earlier - he kills someone. Jesse, though, is hardly the only member of the takers that does not survive the movie. The two detectives racing to piece everything together do not get to the credits unscathed either.

"Takers" is filled with characters that are either flawed as human beings, dealing with unfortunate circumstances, or both. It just so happens that all of these people are on a collision course with one another in Los Angeles on opposite sides of a major robbery. It is surprisingly interesting to watch unfold, even when director John Luessenhop falls too much in love with hand-held camera shots that are just noisy blurs.

Red flags pop up all the time. It is just nice when things turn out OK anyway.

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