Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

King Of Thieves is an embarrassing misstep for its stars, its director, and its writer

Illustration for article titled King Of Thieves is an embarrassing misstep for its stars, its director, and its writer
Photo: Saban Films

Calling King Of Thieves the British answer to Gotti is harsh, obviously. But honestly? It’s not much of a stretch. Both films are ostensibly based on true events, but lack the specificity and focus to convey those events in anything resembling an informative way. They both have leaden pacing and virtually no dramatic tension, for a sensation more akin to wading knee-deep through a mud pit than a thrilling rollercoaster ride. And they both condescendingly pander to their target audiences—here, Baby Boomers who think calling someone a homophobic slur in a Cockney accent is the height of wit—with dopey scripts packed with clichéd tough-guy dialogue. Add to that a stunningly amateurish score that contains (no shit) a brassy jazz arrangement of “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy,” along with some needle drops that make David Ayer seem subtle. But unlike Gotti, King Of Thieves doesn’t have one iconic actor burning through decades’ worth of goodwill. It has six.

Michael Caine—who also appeared in another “old guys rob a bank” film, Going In Style, back in 2017—stars as Brian Reader, a pensioner, widower, and ex-jewel thief who’s pulled back into the game by the enigmatic Basil (Charlie Cox, in a snort-inducingly bad wig), a fellow crook and electronics expert who approaches Brian with an irresistible offer: Basil knows of an underground vault in central London filled with safety-deposit boxes, and he wants Brian to help liberate them of their contents. So Brian gathers up a crew of salty former colleagues-in-crime (Michael Gambon, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, and Paul Whitehouse, all interchangeable and/or cast confusingly against type) to assist in the job. The heist goes great; torturously paced, but great. It’s afterwards when things get complicated, as the young pup leaves the old dogs to fight amongst themselves.

Director James Marsh is experienced enough to get the benefit of the doubt as far as incompetence goes, leading to the conclusion that he’s spectacularly ill-suited for the material. Marsh—who, remember, won an Oscar for Man On Wire in 2009—rides the movie’s tone like a bike with a busted inner tube, wobbling all over the place until finally running out of air. But what pushes what’s supposed to be a fun, light Ocean’s-style heist flick into full-on cognitive dissonance is the contrast between the film’s flashy editing and camerawork and the torpid performances from the usually stellar cast. Caine in particular maintains the demeanor of a man in his bathrobe, even when he’s wearing a three-piece suit, while Cox, the token millennial, walks around with the posture of a submissive puppy, his head bent and his eyes wide as he apologetically absorbs all the verbal abuse his elders can throw at him.

Speaking of “kids these days” jokes: The screenplay, from Mindhunter creator Joe Penhall, similarly confounds. The Old Dogs-style generational humor is as corny as expected—topics of said humor include difficulty using the internet, bare butts getting diabetic shots, “what’s an eBay?,” men over the age of 70 saying “asshole” repeatedly, and young people acting, you know, kind of gay—but the really eyebrow-raising part is how badly the film botches the investigation into the heist. The lazy, sub-CBS procedural way the police work is portrayed is almost a geriatric joke in itself, revolving around two silent female detectives (neither delivers a single line of dialogue, causing King Of Thieves to fail the Bechdel test despite the presence of multiple female characters) who are able to magically spy on everything the crew says and does with perfect audio and video quality, because computers. Millennials: They may be soft, stupid, and useless, but at least they’re omnipotent.