The serviceable actioner “Den of Thieves” may star Gerard Butler. But it’s the supporting work of O’Shea Jackson Jr. that makes his the most interesting character in the film.
The film was written by Christian Gudegast, who also wrote “London Has Fallen,” which also starred Butler. This time around he’s Nick O’Brien, a Los Angeles law enforcement officer who is on the outs with his wife. Seems Nick tends to hang around strip bars and stay out all night, and his wife (Dawn Olivieri, “American Hustle”) is growing weary of it.
Now he’s on the scene of a crime in which someone has stolen an empty armored truck and, in the process, killed two police officers. It turns out that a gang of criminals plans to rob the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve for the very first time.
One of the younger members of the crew serves as the driver. He’s Donnie (O’Shea Jackson Jr., who starred in “Straight Outta Compton” as his lookalike real-life father, Ice Cube).
Donnie is “coaxed” into informing on the rest of the troupe, including military veterans Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber, television’s “Orange is the New Black”) and Enson Levoux (rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who is perfectly cast as the guy who’s tough on the outside but tenderly loves his daughter).
There are several standoffs in this movie that’s thick with testosterone, and not all of them involve guns. When Nick walks into his home to find his wife socializing with another man and another couple; we’re just as uncertain as the characters as to what kind of explosion is about to take place.
Butler’s Nick tears into donuts and alcohol the same way he tears into those who annoy him. This is a good role for him — in fact, it’s not far removed from the tough-guy character in “300” that made him a star.
But it’s O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s character who has depth, charm and a back story that continues to engage viewers up until the last frame. During the lengthy heist scene, which largely is responsible for making the movie worth seeing, it’s Jackson who carries the film. He turned in a commendable performance in “Straight Outta Compton,” and he’s even better here. He has star potential.
This movie isn’t memorable, but it isn’t a waste of time, either. Heaven knows, Butler has starred in worse. And you could do worse than watching him — and particularly his co-star — in this popcorn flick for grownups.