Hard times in Hollywood: an expensive action/caper film starring
Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman goes straight to DVD. Worse. Not only
did the studio send Thick as Thieves straight to DVD, but they sent it
straight to Blockbuster as an exclusive!
Morgan Freeman, aged about 105, plays a grizzled old thief of rare
precious objects who is forced to team up with a young whippersnapper
(80-year-old Antonio Banderas) to pull off an impossible score of some
Russian things especially precious to them, presumably rare geriatric medical supplies.
OK, maybe they were Faberge eggs.
Complete spoilers ahead. Do not read until
after you see the movie:
Just about everything is a spoiler from now on. No way to
avoid it. Even now, when I tell you that nothing is as it seems, that is a
spoiler, but not a very important one, because most facts are buried deep
inside multiple lies, like one of those Russian nesting dolls. When the
first group of lies is exposed, the apparent truth will probably turn out
to be just another elaborate lie, and the morass grows ever murkier
because everybody is conning everyone else, and because the facts hidden
from the characters are not precisely parallel to the facts hidden from
the audience, so we have to try to figure out who knows what, and why that
might be significant.
I have no objection to that. In fact, I like that kind of story when it
is done right. David Mamet's Heist, for example, is a lot of fun to watch,
and bears many superficial similarities to this film. In that film, an
elderly thief of rare precious objects (Gene Hackman) is forced to team up
with a younger man (Sam Rockwell) to pull off an impossible score of some
precious Swiss things. Probably gold or cuckoo clocks.
The difference between Heist and this film is that the script for Heist
was subjected to intense scrutiny and vetted by multiple logic checks, so
that the movie makes sense if you re-watch it after learning everyone's
secrets. Thick as Thieves did not follow that example. Examples:
(1) If Antonio Banderas is an undercover Miami cop working with the
NYPD, as he is later revealed to be, why is he shown exchanging live
ammunition with New York cops in the first scene?
(2) The entire plot hinges on one point: that Banderas will be fooled
when Freeman's ex-partner (who is not really dead) impersonates a Russian
mobster. This makes no sense at all. First of all, Banderas had been
studying everything about Freeman in order to lure him into a trap. He was
hoping to become Freeman's new partner, so it makes no sense that he would
not have learned everything there was to know about Freeman's former
partner. Second, it makes no sense that Freeman would assume Banderas'
inability to "make" the impersonation, because Banderas should have known
what the ex-partner looked like. How could he not? NYPD knew the guy's identity and had
pictures of him. Even if there was a hint of doubt, a sensible Freeman could not
have risked the possibility that Banderas
would recognize the not-so-ex-partner because if Freeman had been wrong on
that one point the whole scam would have fallen apart, and he would have
been in jail forever.
What makes this all even more irritating is that it is not essential to
Freeman's scheme to have the ex-partner impersonate the Russian mobster.
Anyone could have done it, and the scam would play out the same. The
impersonator didn't even need to speak Russian, since he only needed to
fool Antonio Banderas. (In fact, I don't think the actor playing the part
of the ex-partner, Rade Serbedzija, speaks Russian.) It would have been
far more secure for Freeman to use an unknown guy - and he already had them
on the payroll! There are two other Russian guys involved in the scam, fake-playing members of
the same mob. One of them could have been playing the head mobster, and
the other could have been the henchman. Because they were nobodies, Banderas could not possibly have "made" them.
But he should have made the ex-partner, and Freeman should have known
Of course if Banderas had, logically enough, been able to recognize the
undead partner, there would have been no movie.
You can probably see already why the film went straight to video
despite the presence of two top stars. Not only is the entire film
derivative, but it's not even tight. One wonders how so much money
could have been raised to produce this script, which would only make for
an average episode of a typical network TV crime show, except that TV
crime shows are unlikely to be able to afford such production values and
the salaries of Freeman and Banderas.
Of course, I don't find TV crime shows unwatchable, and I rather like
those two guys (although Banderas is best when he is given a good chance
to use his gift for comedy, which is held in check here), so I made it
through the film without grabbing the remote. Your mileage may vary.