Armored – Review

Expectations:  I’d never heard of this film, but that’s less surprising than it should be; I saw only a few films in college that weren’t somehow nerd related (V for Vendetta, The Prestige, Iron Man, Cloverfield, etc.), so I imagine motion picture history for 2006 to early 2010 as some kind of dead zone. As usual, I watched it on the basis that it sounded interesting and was the only thing starting at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. Armored, 2009, action/thriller involving armored cars, with a solid cast of stars. From the name and theme, it seems to have it all: it’s got a heist, which goes bad, some action-movie stars, and armored cars; I imagine them roaring around the streets of L.A. with hundred-dollar bills flying out the windows. How can that be worthy of only two stars? Heck, even that’s not a turn-off; DirecTV only gave two stars to Pandorum, which I ended up liking a lot more than I probably should.

With Armored, we have a time-relevant slice of blue-collar Americana: Ty Hackett (Columbus Short) has recently returned from serving in Iraq, now raising his rebellious younger brother by himself, struggling to make ends meet in a collapsed economy. He is, of course, a security guard driving large sums of money around in an armored car whilst theoretically protecting it; ironic, given his financial woes. His co-workers include his godfather and mentor Mike (Matt Dillon), along with several other actors of note (Laurence Fishburne, Jean Reno, and Skeet Ulrich). After pulling a fake-heist prank on Ty, they head to the bar and discuss previous heist attempts, mentioning one where their boss (a highly under-utilized Fred Ward) was the only survivor; presumably this is where he acquired his cane.

Of course, the prank was only a dress rehearsal: the group intends to make off with $40 million the next day. Ty wants nothing to do with this, but between the bills piling up and a social worker planning to put his little brother in a foster home, Ty caves, and agrees to join the scheme, on one condition: that nobody gets hurt. Nobody has a problem with this, since the plan is almost idiot-proof and doesn’t involve armored car chases through L.A. in the slightest (curses!).

All goes smoothly, the money is safely put in the trucks and driven into Rust Beltopia Abandoned Factories Wonderland. While unloading the money, a hobo is seen watching them; in the ensuing panic, Baines (Fishburne) shoots him. Being a paragon of virtue thus far, Ty tries to rush him to a hospital, but Mike blows the dying hobo away. Ty freaks out, locks himself in with the other half of the money, and his godfather casually decides they have no choice but to kill him and work his death into thier fake heist plot.

That’s really all there is to this movie. Ty is in the truck with the money. Everyone else wants the money. Mike wants to kill Ty. This equates into the group needing to get into the truck to get the money and kill Ty.

Things continue to escalate. There’s two short chase scenes, which take the modern fascination with overusing flash-cuts to “neatly” disguise the fact that the two armored cars are roaring around a single, relatively small, abandoned factory building at the intense speed of about twenty-five miles per hour. Oh, and the first chase ends when they miraculously crash back in the same place they started, so Mike pulls out Ty’s truck’s sparkplugs and whatnot. Ty sets off the truck’s siren, a nearby policeman (Milo Ventimiglia) shows up, Baines shoots him, too, and the group of dedicated brothers in theft degenerates into infighting.

For the lion’s share of the film, the group of would-be thieves stand around arguing, giving Ty ample time to ninja around and make them look stupid. At one point, he manages to sneak out of his truck and sets fire to the cash from the first truck; then, while the group stumble around trying to put out the burning money, Ty grabs the wounded cop and drags him back into his armored car fortress. After a while of the “stand around listlessly while arguing,” they decide that the only way to get into the truck is to hammer out the door joints with a railroad spike and some cylindrical hunk of metal; this is as methodically time-consuming as you’d expect. There’s a twist with Ty’s little brother that isn’t terribly dramatic or interesting, and then it’s pretty much over.

The actors all give solid performances, despite some crippling character flaws; the blame for this falls on the writers’ hands, not the actors’. Short is shoehorned into the “moral high ground” character, making him also the “only sympathetic character” by default. Dillon makes a great villain, cold, calculating, and greedy. Fishburne and Jean Reno are likewise solid. Still, there’s nothing to grab onto with these characters: they’re stock cardboard, and likely to blow away in the wind if the actors’ strong deliveries made them appear as living cardboard, at least.

Armored is a confused mess. It’s a heist film which never gets beyond the planning stages, an action flick which barrels along at a tedious thirty miles an hour, all the while attempting to inform us that it is, in fact, a high-octane thriller.  The plot isn’t bad, which combines with some acceptable acting to make a solid slice of mediocrity, but that’s all the better it is: a slice, not even full-blown mediocrity. Generic mediocrity at that; it’s not even vanilla, it’s plain-flavored. This is a film that never takes off, and yet, doesn’t know when to stop. Armored fails at a number of levels, namely at being original, and worse, at entertaining.

Normally, I’d be inclined to keep writing about the movie, but in this case I just can’t; there’s nothing to this film. It’s not even skin deep, has glacial pacing, isn’t energetic, and goes nowhere; it’s too heavy-handed for good drama, the characters are flat enough to become invisible when they turn sideways, and the ending is one of those feel-good stereotypes that only exist in Hollywood. I can’t recommend this film: while it isn’t eye-gouging terrible, it’s about as fun as watching paint dry. At best, it’s a way to spend 88 minutes. The same can be said about doing laundry.

This is a film that never takes off, and yet, doesn’t know when to stop.

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