Poor Robert DeNiro. Once he had uncontested status as the greatest actor of his generation. Now every time he releases a movie, you have to remind yourself that was once the case. That’s not to say that he’s suddenly lost his acting chops, just that he’s now been reduced to starring in such swill that he simply can’t bring anything to it. Heist is the most recent and perhaps saddest example of this trend. Sure, The Intern was a worse movie, but at least it wasn’t a crime movie that cast DeNiro as a character that unavoidably draws comparisons to one of his finest achievements. This is essentially a direct-to-redbox crappy crime flick that’s only getting a token theatrical release because there are enough famous faces to put on the poster. Don’t fall for it.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (a talented actor who desperately deserves better than the roles he’s stuck with) stars as an employee on a low rent casino boat who has fallen on hard times. His daughter is sick and in desperate need of surgery that he can’t afford. So Morgan asks the man running the business (DeNiro, most certainly not starring in Casino) to help him out, but Bobby refuses. Serendipitously, Morgan is also approached by one of the boat’s hired slabs of muscle (Dave Bautista) to take part in a heist that could cure all their woes. Bautista has some dudes to do the job, he just needs a man on the inside to get them to the vault. That’s where Morgan comes in and wouldn’t ya know it? Everything goes wrong. Next thing you know, Morgan and Bautista are fleeing the scene and end up on a public bus pursued by the police. At this point, the flick turns into a low rent Speed knock off with DeNiro ranting from the sidelines and Gina Carano providing the kindly cop who wants to help Morgan survive the whole mess.
Yep, as you may have surmised, Heist feels like a direct-to-video crime thriller from the late 90s. It wouldn’t surprise me if the script was written at that time and sold as “Reservoir Dogs meets Speed.” It does surprise me that somehow that script sat around long enough to get made. Scott Mann (no relation to Michael in bloodline or talent) directs it all with the hamfisted idiocy that the silly story deserves. The handful of action beats are played big and broad, while jittery handheld cameras are supposed to convince us that the character moments in between explosions somehow approximate reality. The whole thing is silly and stupid enough that it could have been fun with a lighter touch that acknowledges the absurdity. Unfortunately, Mann allows none of that to enter the picture. This is a brooding and serious tale about a bus high-jacked by a pro-wrestler and a sad dad. Don’t you dare giggle!
It has to be said that the main cast do at least commit to their roles wholeheartedly, even if it’s a fool’s errand. The grizzled Morgan continues his streak of solid, battered tough guy work in roles and movies unworthy of his efforts (one day this guy will get a breakout role. God-willing it’ll be soon), Bautista continues to prove The Rock need not be the only wrestler/movie star in La-la-land, and DeNiro does the best he can to elevate a stock villain into something resembling a human. Of course DeNiro is the hardest to watch flounder since his character draws unavoidable connections to Casino and reminds us all of brighter days when he used to have roles worthy of his time/talents. It would be nice if Bobby D would limit his film roles to collaborations with David O. Russell and Scorsese these days, but the guy likes to work. So once again, if you adore the actor it’s best just to ignore this thing or pretend it’s someone else (at least he doesn’t scream as much as Pacino, so it’s possible to squint and see a different face through the blur).
Heist is absolute hogwash that doesn’t even serve up campy laughs for those who enjoy so-bad-its-good entertainment. Nope, it takes itself far too seriously for that and made the mistake of casting talented actors who try (even if those efforts are in vain). It’s a sad state of the mid-budget genre movie that a script this bad can attract talent this good, simply because there are no better projects out there to pull them away. There’s nothing wrong with a C-level crime movie with a title as generic as Heist, it just requires a screenplay at least mildly more compelling than this (or at least a sense of self-depreciating humor) to be worth the time of viewers and filmmakers. However, there’s no need to get too upset about the film’s failings. After all, this flick was on a one-way trip to obscurity long before it hit theaters. Now it’s just a matter of standing back and waiting for it to disappear from our collective memory. Should happen by Sunday.