Armored: Nimrod Antal’s B-Actioner

The shadow of Tarantino’s splashy debut, “Reservoir Dogs,” and countless Hollywood movies about seemingly perfect heists that go uproariously (and hilariously) wrong, loom large over “Armored,” the new actioner from Screen Gems.

A cast of talented actors, headed by Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburn, Jean Reno, and others elevate Nimrod Antal (“Vacancy”) B picture above its generic status, resulting in an unpretentious, ultra-violent, action-packed crime thriller that delivers its goods unapologetically.

Some critics may resent the use of the Iraq War as a plot element, though it’s in the periphery of a down-to-earth movie, which could not be bothered with politics or psychology. Short (85 minutes including credits) and to the point, “Armored” has a rudimentary plot but is full of action pieces, which, unabashedly and refreshingly, are rendered in an old-fashioned way, sans reliance on CGI.

 

The functional narrative, written by James V. Simpson, introduces Ty Hackett (Columbus Short), who after his parents’ death, returns from active duty in Iraq. New, harsh civilian reality for Ty is defined by numerous unpaid medical bills, huge mortgage, and most important of all, the responsibility to take care of his 14-year-old brother, Jimmy (Andre Jamal Kinney), who needs moral guidance and a role model.

 

Following tradition, Ty signs on as a guard at Eagle Shield Security, the same armored car service that his father worked for. Under the tutelage of his godfather, Chief Officer Michael Cochrane (Matt Dillon), Ty trains for a grueling, often dangerous new career.

 

On the last day of his probation, his co-workers take Ty out for a congratulatory celebration. Relaxing over a couple of beers, they trade anecdotes, reveal loopholes in the security system, and discuss failed robberies and successful heists. Cochrane has the topper, an unsolved holdup in Texas that he claims to understand, holding that the only way it could have happened is if the guards themselves staged the robbery.

That incident now inspires Cochrane to plan his own “perfect” crime. With a pickup of $42 million, he proposes to slip away from the route, stash the money in an abandoned warehouse and call in a holdup. In other words, it seems like an ideal crime, one with no victims, no villains, and no clues.

The heist, which promises to make the perpetrators wealthier than their wildest dreams, calls for the cooperation of all the guards involved. Call them the dirty sextet, a wild bunch comprised of types, the impulsive and hotheaded Baines (Laurence Fishburne); the quiet but intense Quinn (Jean Reno); the high-strung but vulnerable Dobbs (Skeet Ulrich), the born-again ex-con Palmer (Amaury Nolasco); and Ty, the basically decent if desperate guy.

Initially, Ty refuses to even consider robbing his employer, but the threat of losing his house to the bank and his brother to foster care convinces him to join his co-workers. To make it easier on himself, he makes one, rather naïve, condition, that no one gets hurt.

The early phase of the cash pickup goes smoothly. After checking in with their dispatcher, the men make the brief detour to their hiding place. In high spirits, they move quickly to unload the money, but an unexpected interruption changes the game plan. With millions of dollars at risk and their futures on the line, the crew scrambles to salvage what they can.

The only fresh angle in “Armored” is that its protagonists are ordinary, flawed, basically good guys, who find themselves in difficult situations and make bad choices, failing to fully realize the consequences of their decisions. As is often the case with such stories, one, unexpected moment, changes everything, and the perfect, meticulously planned robbery turns into a bloodbath, during which the men turn against each other as they desperately try to save their lives. The ensuing yarn depicts how, one by one, almost all of the men are eliminated. The puzzle is which of the men gets killed first and in what ways.

The link to Tarantino’s earlier work is further reaffirmed not just by the premise, but also by the setting, an isolated warehouse, and the use of director of cinematography Andrzej Sekula, who had shot “Pulp Fiction,” and gives “Armored” crisp imagery that propels the action from one set piece to another.

A minor, unspectacular, utterly forgettable flick when it’s over, “Armored” is nevertheless  entertaining, serving a living proof that there is still juice to be squeezed out of the oldest genres of American film.