If you photocopy a photocopy of an original work, the image becomes blurry and indistinct. It’s still legible, but not near the quality as the original. This is what it feels like to watch “Heist,” a derivative action-thriller that is more of a pastiche of better films than an actual film itself. With a bus full of people taken hostage, you’ll think of the 1994 Jan de Bont classic “Speed.” With Robert De Niro in a spray tan and chunky necklace, there are shades of his character in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.” But with these references, “Heist” only succeeds in making you wish you were watching “Speed” or “Casino” instead.
In this iteration, De Niro is the boss of a riverboat casino somewhere in Louisiana. “Somewhere,” because the constraints of space and time don’t seem to be much of a concern here. A title card reads “one week earlier” and the ensuing seven days glide by in minutes. Galveston, Texas, seems to be just down the road. Pope (De Niro) is a powerful, well-connected man on the eve of his retirement when one of his blackjack dealers, Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) asks for a loan. He’s got a young daughter who needs an expensive surgery, and has waited until days before to scare up the $300,000 (presumably, Pope’s casino does not offer health benefits). With a brusque “no exceptions,” Pope turns him down, and Vaughn decides to go in on a heist scheme with bouncer Jason (Dave Bautista).
With baffling speed, Vaughn comes up with a complicated plan for snatching $3 million from the casino. And all too quickly, it goes horribly wrong, with the robbers fleeing casino security (including a machine-gun wielding Morris Chestnut), tailed by cop Kris (Gina Carano). The ensuing chase is a complete rip-off of “Speed,” as Vaughn struggles for power aboard the bus, and the situation gets increasingly chaotic. Matters are complicated by the presence of swaggering detective Marconi (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who has a vested interest in the return of Pope’s 3 mil.
“Heist” itself has an interest in breaking down the line between “good” and “bad.” Vaughn, our hero, does bad things, because he wants to save his daughter. The victims of his crimes are presented as the bad guys. The characters often speak to the “cops and robbers” trope in which they find themselves with an ironic tone. Ultimately, not all of the cops do good and not all of the robbers are bad people. This black and white binary is what “Heist” hopes to complicate for our audience.
But beyond intention, “Heist” has no interest in developing character. Vaughn’s given a few allusions to his backstory, and actor Morgan, gaunt and haggard, uses his altered appearance to imbue some sense of who Vaughn might be. De Niro’s also given a paltry scene to flesh out his emotional state, but the other characters are devoid of motivation and nuance.
Instead, “Heist” mashes together rapidly cut and confusing action set pieces and scrambles expectations with a series of head-snapping twists and reversals of allegiance. You’ll be left scratching your head, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. “Heist” has no interest in following the consequences of choice and action, just whether or not a person’s heart is in the right place, a question that doesn’t sustain this disappointingly derivative film.
Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Robert De Niro, Dave Bautista, Morris Chestnut, Gina Carano
Director: Scott Mann
Rated R (for violence, pervasive language and some sexual content)