Thick As Thieves (UK - DVD R2)
Leigh Riding reviews this direct to DVD heist thriller starring Morgan Freeman
Ripley (Morgan Freeman), a seasoned thief, has to team up with a brash upstart (Antonio Banderas) in order to steal two rare Fabarge eggs from a seemingly impenetrable vault, in order to repay a hefty debt to the Russian mafia.
What's this? A film with the undeniable talents of Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas going straight to DVD? Well, that can't be right; maybe the movie was botched by a hack director. No, the director was the solid Mimi Leder ( The Peacemaker, Deep Impact). Ah, looking at the back of the box, all becomes clear; the film is a Millennium product. According to the 'Action Geek' section of my brain, Millenium were specialists in straight to video action movies in the mid-90s. The difference between Millennium's output and their competitors was that their movie's budgets were split in half, with one side of the money going to the stunt team (well spent back in the day), and the other half going to a surprisingly top drawer cast of talent. Matthew Modine, Peter Weller, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland; the list goes on. The one element the company never spent on however were the scripts, which were thin to say the least.
As time went on, Millennium moved on to fallen A-list action stars (Snipes, Seagal, Van Damme, Lundgren), until the company finally hit pay dirt when they paid for Bruce Willis to star in the underrated 16 Blocks. It also helped that they not only hired a top drawer director in Richard Donner, but also had the crucial solid script. That was it—Millennium moved on to their next marketing strategy: rustle up a random script draft, hire the biggest stars and directors possible, and that will bring in ticket sales. The films came and went, with talent such as John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Nicolas Cage, Brian DePalma and Renny Harlin crashing and burning terribly, with the prime example of the trend being the turgid Pacino/De Niro vehicle Righteous Kill, which made money purely on curiosity value only.
Thick As Thieves is the third direct to DVD film Freeman has made with Millennium, with the other two being 2005's appalling Edison, which had an amazing cast for such a poor film, and the Bruce Beresford wilderness adventure The Contract, starring a visibly despondent John Cusack. It has to be said, this is the least ambitious of the three. Undoing all the good work of Ocean's 11, which slicked up and refreshed the heist genre, Thick as Thieves is so old fashioned and musty, it's a surprise the DVD case doesn't come supplied with mothballs. Firstly there's the concept of the old thief training up the cocky pretender that David Mamet did far better in the Gene Hackman/Sam Rockwell film Heist. Then there's the old clichés like navigating red laser beams, and the same double cross/triple cross/there never was a cross in the first place twists that are as old as the hills.
Freeman, to be fair, treats the film with the same amount of professionalism as he does in his stronger films, and fans will be pleased to hear that he is still as captivating as ever. On the other hand, Banderas is surprisingly low energy and flat, with none of the verve and enthusiasm he shows in output such as Assassins and his Mariachi films; he wasn't even this dull in Ballistic: Ecks Vs. Sewer. The man simply looks bored. Rhada Mitchell is completely wasted in her role, but leaves an impression. It's hard to see what any of the actors saw in the poorly written project, aside from the paycheque and the company they keep.
Direction is unspectacular, with Leder only coming to life in the thin-on-the-ground action sequences such as the opening train heist. Other than that, everything else seems like well-lit television. The action scenes seem tacked on, but fit far better than in Freeman's earlier Edison (which seemingly became an action movie during reshoots).
The main problem with the film is that the pedigree of the talent promises quality the film itself just can't deliver. One gets the feeling that the film would be better served if the cast was lower key, but if that was the case there's no way we would even be reading this review right now. It's a film that says nothing, goes nowhere, and leaves no impression, but makes a fantastic DVD case for your shelf.
The 2.35:1 transfer offered on this Lionsgate disc is nice and solid, with a clean, sharp image and little in the way of distracting grain and no noticeable artefacting. The strongest part of the film is the cinematography, and the transfer serves it well, with strong colours and the heist sequence looking suitably stark and steely. For those who actually want to own this, they will be treated by a slick looking film, presented well on the DVD.
The 5.1 track is rather unspectacular, but serviceable. Dialogue is nice and clear, and the train heist is well served, with action shifting around the surrounds impressively, but the rest of the track is rather ordinary, with little in the way of bells and whistles and a rather thin low end. Not a bad track, just uneventful.
The extra content is a little thin on the ground, with a rather hastily put together Making Of, featuring snippets from the cast and crew, and a separate interview segment with the cast and crew, which is of note purely because of Banderas' visible boredom and lack of interest while discussing the film.
It's easy to see why this film skipped a theatrical release; everything about Thick As Thieves screams average. The plot is old hat and clichéd, the direction is workmanlike, and the film feels more like a mid-season television episode than it does a fully fledged feature. While not a bad film by any stretch, it all feels like wasted opportunities. Its one saving grace is an on-form Morgan Freeman, and completist fans of his work may glean some pleasure from the film. Thick as Thieves is the epitome of middling.
Review by Leigh Riding
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 16th February 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Interviews with Cast and Crew, 'Making Of' documentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mimi Leder
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Antonio Banderas, Rhada Mitchell
Length: 99 minutes
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