'Army of Thieves' review: Heist movie comes up empty

Netflix prequel to "Army of the Dead" is like Capone's vault: there's nothing inside.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

According to "Army of Thieves," the art of safecracking simply comes down to listening. No matter the safe nor how intricate the model, an ear to its door while spinning the dial is the key to unlocking all of its treasures. Ear, door, voila! You're in. 

There's probably a little more to it than that, but "Army of Thieves" is unconcerned with those frivolous details. This lark of a heist movie — a spinoff/ prequel to this summer's Zack Snyder-directed zombies-in-Vegas splatterfest "Army of the Dead" — is more into riffing on heist flicks and creating a tossed off mood of nonchalance than it is in getting down and dirty with specifics. It's not willing to invest in its premise or its characters, so in turn, it's difficult to invest in what it's selling.  

Matthias Schweighöfer in "Army of Thieves."

What it's selling is pure style. Matthias Schweighöfer, who also directs, is Ludwig Dieter, a safecracker extraordinaire who's in it for the art of the steal. He deeply respects safe makers and the craft that goes into their creations, and he gets the opportunity to break into three vaults designed by the Picasso of the safe world. He's all in. 

He's recruited onto a team by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), a mysterious thief, and he joins a team that already includes a getaway driver (Guz Khan), a hacker (Ruby O. Fee) and a tough guy (Stuart Martin) who, in a nod to his heroes Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage, calls himself Brad Cage. (He looks more like Hugh Jackman than either of his supposed role models, but no matter.) This ragtag crew goes on a mission to rob some safes because, well, why are they doing this again? Eh, details are vague, just like the heists themselves. 

Those heists, by the way, are presented as extremely low stakes operations. Ludwig, who loosens his fingers and plays classical music on his phone to get in the mood for a job, is often left alone inside vaults with all the time in the world to break into the supposedly highly secure safes. There's, uhh, no guards? Again and again, "Army of Thieves" reminds viewers it isn't meant to be taken seriously, even as a heist movie. So what are we doing here, again? 

The mood is light throughout and Schweighöfer is likable as a would-be thief with a heart of gold, but "Army of Thieves" never makes a convincing case for its own existence. It's a reminder that not every bank job is worth taking on.

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Army of Thieves'

GRADE: C

Not rated: language, violence

Running time: 127 minutes

On Netflix