Scott Mann’s Heist gets by on chutzpah, growing more diverting with every ludicrous plot twist. Implying an element of surprise, “twist” might be a relative term for a film composed of so many stock parts though—an impression reinforced by a title that’s been used dozens of times by other films concerning tough guys who dare to take on the Man by mounting elaborate, categorically insane thefts. You’ve seen everything in Heist before, and what it offers is a shamelessly grabby cross-pollination of sources, pilfering everything from Speed to The Usual Suspects to John Q to seemingly every crime movie featuring co-star Robert De Niro up to this point. On its own debauched terms, Heist sort of coheres, gathering up affectations until they cumulatively yield something almost charmingly deranged.
The film follows an ex-military man, Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who has a shadowy past with a mob kingpin, the Pope (De Niro). Vaughn once served as a surrogate son and protégé figure to the Pope, but rejected the latter’s criminal ways to start a family. It doesn’t seem to bother Vaughn, however, dealing cards at the Pope’s river casino palace, the Swan, where the latter’s new protégé, Dog (Morris Chestnut), obviously kills and tortures people.
Shooting Vaughn inquisitive looks is an intimidating new Swan bodyguard, Cox (Dave Bautista), who makes Vaughn a proposition: They could rob the casino, which couldn’t involve the police in the search for its obviously laundered money. Vaughn’s open to this scheme because his little daughter is, of course, bedridden and desperately in need of a vaguely established surgery to correct her sickness. And the Pope just turned down Vaughn’s request for a $300,000 loan to settle his unsurprisingly Draconian medical bills, leading to a bitter round of grab-ass between Vaughn and Dog.
Vaughn discerns Cox’s stupidity; this is someone, after all, who proposes a bank robbery 30 seconds into a smoke break with a total stranger. But what’s a working man to do? Vaughn’s the romantic lead to Cox’s easily slighted sociopath. The “sick girl” bit is an antiquated melodramatic device on the film’s part, meant to maintain Vaughn’s likeability despite his complicity in a robbery, and, later, in a hostage-taking scenario aboard a bus that’s inhabited by the usual social stereotypes: uptight, persnickety Asian; weapon-happy white dude; pregnant woman; and oblivious phone-toting millennial.
Morgan somehow sells the audience most of this, allowing his photogenic five-day stubble to serve as a shorthand for Vaughn’s derivatively tortured past. He survives this nonsense with a ploy that’s traditional to actors in loony genre films: by underacting as a form of overacting.
Heist is competently staged, but Mann maintains audience interest with the preponderance of dissonant absurdities. A raid sequence commands fascination for its mercenary craziness, insisting, convincingly in the context of our presently precarious relationship with law enforcement, that cops would say “to hell with it” and raid the bus, hostage safety be damned. The violence of this sequence contrasts uneasily with the mugging of various guest stars: Mark-Paul Gosselaar appears briefly as a police officer, doing a bald impression of Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens, nearly stealing the film with the confident relish he makes of his grade-Z zingers, and Gina Carano plays another cop who’s clearly attracted to Vaughn, shooting him suggestive eyes despite his involvement in hijacking a bus. Mild inconvenience, that is.
At times, the dialogue is so bad as to exude a certain gutterbrow je ne sais quoi. When Cox calls in a favor, he asks someone if they remember fucking his sister. Of course, the other party doesn’t, because Cox didn’t allow that to happen, but he might if they’re willing to play ball. Later on, Dog asks Vaughn if he’s hungry, “’cause it’s time to eat rock salt motherfucker!” And so on. Heist is a moral shambles, and everyone involved here can do much, much better, but that’s the point: It serves as a bit of unruly, disreputable pulp recess.