We open on a money transfer, including the always trusty progress bar, in a construction site in Afghanistan. It looks like a salt deposit site, but let’s move past that. A woman furiously types for no apparent reason as money in small amounts goes to various banks around the world. A bespectacled man hovers over her, arms crossed and smiling while nodding. The transfer completes. They head for their exit vehicles when suddenly, there’s an attack! Two cars blow up, and several mercenary types are killed. The bespectacled man double-crossed the wrong people, a crew of four, and they get the name of one of those banks from him, for the money they’re owed. It’s time for a good old-fashioned bank robbery.
The screenplay is based on another screenplay by the film’s director, York Shackleton, so says the credits. That leads to some confusion rather than sharing a co-writing credit, but let’s move past that, too.
211, a new video on demand film that came out on June 8th, stars Nicolas Cage as a cop at the end of his rope. His partner is his son-in-law (played by Dwayne Cameron), but he’s on the outs with his daughter (Sophie Skelton) for not taking the death of his wife well (apparently that’s something to be mad about). They go out on a routine day with a ride-along, a young African-American kid named Kenny, played by Michael Rainey, Jr. (who also happens to be the only one coming out of this movie looking good). But this will not be some simple ride-along, no sir.
Cage, the film’s star, looks angry the whole time. It’s hard to tell if it’s a character trait, or if Cage himself is truly miserable being there. It might be both. He spends a lot of the movie firing his gun from behind a police car, and we only get a small uncaged Cage moment, which is flattened with a continuity error (calling his son-in-law his son).
It’s in details like that where the movie melts into something made of madness. A smuggler who has long been sought after in Kabul runs away five feet, and it’s considered a massive loss of a long-run investigation. A surprise pregnancy is announced; the result can be played a whole bunch of different ways. There could be joy, terror, surprise, anger, anything at all. Instead, it’s the dialogue of shock, but no emotion to support the words being spoken. There’s a speech about what being ancillary to a cop’s life is like, but it’s the kind of thing said some time ago, near the beginning of that career, rather than just now because the camera is on. This is all in the span of ten minutes, by the way. The film is full of clichés and baffling character decisions and story choices that are done in such a serious manner, you’d think this was an early 1990’s Blockbuster rental, one of the VHS boxes hidden behind the more prestigious releases.
The heist itself is slapdash in its simplicity, the money already spread out and sitting on the vault’s table ready for the taking. It then escalates for no reason other than to escalate, a lot of the action shots breaking the 180-degree rule and becoming massive confusion zones for such a squared-off section. There’s also a comical lack of reloading, despite thousands of shots being fired. Cage must have an impressive 600-round clip because he only reloads once. It even becomes somewhat of an afterthought, becoming dark and nothing much happening for a while, never cutting back inside the bank and what’s happening to the hostages and the robbers until the very end. But the strangest part of all comes in the climax, where we’re told multiple times that their big plan will upend any plans the cops make and comes down to some mind-bending mad dash serpentine running that hurt my brain.
The film’s largest problem comes with its enigmatic dullness. You’ve got Nicolas Cage starring as a cop in a bank heist movie. That sounds pretty all right. But it’s the issue of trying to keep too many spinning plates at play in what should be a pretty simple movie. You’ve got pregnancies, an agent of Interpol who is hot on the tracks of the robbers (though how she can spot an overturned scrap of paper in a huge warehouse is the least of this movie’s problems), a young person of color seeing the life of a cop through a ride-along that turns to chaos, retirement and pension threats, the world of cameras trained on anything and everything, on top of the heist. Oh, and of course Kenny’s mom works at the hospital and so she’s involved in the action, too. It’s all been done before, and all been done better.
The accents spread throughout this American-set film are impressive. Shot in Bulgaria, it’s pretty apparent most of the non-leads are from that area, as their accents pick up considerably, especially noteworthy in certain scenes. Some are even overdubbed with voices that do not match the person speaking, not because of bad ADR, but because the voice does not match the person. Pulling this whole thing off on a budget could work if you work within that budget or get creative with what you have. This tries to punch above its weight and ends up showing in glaring ways. The only nice things that can be found: the editing in non-action scenes is well done and the prop master managed to get some Massachusetts license plates for most of the cars.
211 could have been some fun, but it takes itself so seriously in its presentation that it becomes silly by accident. It’s hard not to chuckle at the hamfisted dialogue about a cop talking about his future in a movie involving a shootout, or the state of race and police being untrustworthy when it’s only in three lines. But it’s in the incredible monotony, the severe boredom, that 211 fails the most, and becomes a horrible mess best left forgotten.