Reeling it in: Crime film doesn’t live up to expectations

“Triple 9”

Open Road Films

1 hour, 55 minutes

You know what I get tired of hearing? How busy everyone is. “I’m so busy!” “I’ve just got too much to do!” Mostly I think I’m tired of hearing that because half the time I’m the one saying it.

That said, this weekend was really busy! So busy, in fact, that I didn’t make it out to see the movie I was looking forward to, “The Girl on the Train” starring one of my favorite actresses, Emily Blunt. That the reviews for that film are coming in fairly negative softens the blow a bit, I guess. But still, it looked pretty cool.

Instead, I sought out yet another underseen, and relatively obscure gem available for streaming. Unfortunately, this gem turned out to be a plain old rock. This puts me, yet again, in the unenviable position of recommending that you avoid a movie that you had never heard of anyway. At the very least, I suppose I can help you avoid the $4.99 rental fee that you might’ve otherwise paid for the cops and robbers shoot ’em up “Triple 9.”

On paper, “Triple 9” looks like a winner. After watching it, I can see how this film was probably intended to be a fairly large release but, when people finally got a look at the finished product, decided that it would be safer to dump it on the home market instead of spending the money on an extensive theatrical run. It boasts a fairly impressive cast of solid actors, and a fairly typical crime drama story with an interesting twist. But a poorly written script, muddled cinematography, and, of all things, poor sound mixing, shatter whatever potential this film might have otherwise had.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Michael Atwood, the leader of a group of elite bank robbers who happen to also be a group of corrupt cops. Atwood is not a cop, but is trying to pay off some vague debt to a group of Russian/Israeli mobsters, a muddy detail that clues you into just how convoluted the story gets. The rest of the gang is filled out by character actors Clifton Collins, Aaron Paul, and new rising star Anthony Mackie, you may know as Falcon from “The Avengers.”

Naturally, the plot revolves around one last heist that requires such a level of complexity, that the police response time has to be mapped out to a tee. The title, “Triple 9” refers to the police call sign indicating an officer has been shot. If we kill a cop on one side of town, the thinking goes, the police response will be so overwhelming that there will be nobody to stop us from achieving our real objective on the other side of town, the aforementioned one last heist. This this makes a kind of sense, I suppose, and showed the kernel of an idea that got this film from drawing board to development.

It’s an interesting moral conundrum. Just how corrupt are our corrupt officers? Are they bad because they’re broken, on the hook for something, or just plain evil?

Unfortunately, the movie does a terrible job of plumbing any depths, due mostly to the fact that you can’t tell what’s going on. I felt as though the characters were mumbling through the entire film. When the plot is difficult to get through anyway, it sure doesn’t help that you can’t hear what the characters are saying.

We talked about the robbers, but the cops in the movie are little better. Casey Affleck, as the new cop in the precinct, brings his trademark understated performance, which is fine, but as a counterpoint, Woody Harrelson is playing a bizarre, drug addicted, drunk detective who acts as a strange kind of mentor/bodyguard to his young protégé. Harrelson definitely seems like he’s acting in a completely different film than does everybody else.

Odd or difficult to parse as each of these characters are, none of them are particularly badly performed. That honor goes to veteran actress, Oscar winner Kate Winslet chewing up the scenery as Irina Vlaslov. This was a career worst for Winslet, who is typically pretty good.

In the end, I was especially disappointed in this film, not only because of the squandered cast, but because I like this genre of movie a lot. “Street Kings,” “End of Watch,” “Dark Blue” — these are all standard genre movies, but manage to squeeze a lot of emotion and character development in between the gun fights. I can’t say they’re great, not like “Training Day” is great, but they’re entertaining and solid.

“Triple 9” really wants to be “Heat,” possibly the best of these movies, but it’s nowhere near that level. The last half is better than the first, so at least it ends on a relatively high note, but on the whole, “Triple 9” was a waste of my time. Of which, as I may have mentioned, there is very little.

Grade: C-

“Triple 9” is rated R for language, violence, and nudity.

Chris Jenness is an art teacher, freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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