The heist-picture/zombie apocalypse thriller “Army of the Dead” left me cold. But many others warmed to it, and now there’s a Netflix series in the offing based on it.
Meanwhile, here’s the prequel that sealed that deal. “Army of Thieves” is much more of a straight-up caper comedy, with events preceding the “zombie apocalypse” that’s already happened in “Dead.”
Actually, the Vegas-born onslaught of the walking dead begins in this film, and yet as the contagion spreads and civilization stares down its doom, an “Army of Thieves” is assembled to crack the greatest collection of safes known to humankind.
No, it doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense, and yes, there are plenty of pauses to appreciate each safe (scene from inside, as its digitally-animated tumblers fall), all of them named for Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle of operas by a Master Race machinist/safe builder also named Wagner.
But the thing lopes along, jolly enough here and there, that fans of the first film almost certainly have already devoured this. I am tardy getting to it. Apologies.
The tale, directed by and starring Matthias Schweighöfer, — “Dieter” from the first film– gives us the master Katzenjammer safe-cracker’s back story, his inclusion in a “team” the sets out to crack the great safes of Europe, named “Das Rheingold,” “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” after operas by Hitler’s favorite dead German composer.
We meet Schweighöfer’s Dieter as he’s lured into an underground safecracking contest, thanks to his Youtube videos about the Great Safes of Europe. He’s a loner, an obsessive and an office drone who finds himself, after winning said contest, tempted into further “adventure” by the alluring career criminal Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel).
Zombies be damned, she’s determined to knock off the Hans Wagner safes at whatever credit union, bank or casino now uses them. She wants to “go down in history” as history itself is ending, a fact conveniently ignored for pretty much the entire movie.
Well, not by the Interpol agent (Noémie Nakai) whose boss (Jonathan Cohen) is obsessed with catching this bank robbing gang, which includes getaway driver Rolph (Guz Khan), muscle in “action hero” form Brad Cage (Stuart Martin) and Portuguese super-hacker Korina (Ruby O. Fee).
“Why are we bothering with this (gang)” Interpol’s Beatriz wants to know? They should be helping stop the zombie contagion. As there is no answer that doesn’t utterly undermine the entire premise of the picture, there you go.
The heists are hyped-up with rapid-fire editing and increasingly insistent strings on the soundtrack. They cannot help but play repetitive, despite the supposed increasing degrees of difficulty.
Getting Dieter to the safes is a hassle, hearing him pontificate about “Der Ring des Nibelungen” the operas and “Der Ring” of safes every time before he “gets cracking” can be sort of tedious.
He’s a fun character, and Schweighöfer has a jolly time at portraying Dieter’s failings. He’s not tough, not modest and screams like a little girl when injured, frightened or delighted.
Where’s Dave Bautista when you need him?
The plot, conceived by Zack Snyder but scripted by Shay Hatten, tosses in missed communications, double-crosses, tough-guy and tough-gal talk and some serious kick-ass action involving Emmanuel, whose experience in “Game of Thrones” And “Furious 7” pays off as the lady is adept at fight choreography.
The cleverest visual is Dieter laying his hand on safes and being able to visualize the lock inside the metal casing as he turns those golden ears — no stethoscope needed — to opening it via the “art” of lock deciphering, no drills or dynamite required.
The “puzzles” that each safe is said to represent aren’t all that and left me cold. There are cute self-aware references about “how sometimes in a heist movie they show a flash forward,” revealing how the caper will go down if everything goes perfectly, which things never do.
There’s a lot movement and motion in Schweighöfer’s direction, which can’t hide the general inertia of this rote, formulaic and nonsensical “quest.”
Don’t think too much about well-equipped, financed and mobile these people are when there’s a global pandemic that you and I know would cause a pretty quick planetary lockdown.
And don’t be surprised at all the ways the Interpol guy is five steps behind you as the average viewer as we can all see what should be the gang’s unmasking right from the opening scenes.
It’s a more likable affair than the video-gamish “Army of the Dead.” Taking the zombies out of the equation altogether helps.
Just not enough.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen, Noémie Nakai
Credits: Directed by Matthias Schweighöfer, scripted by Shay Hatten. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:07