Righteous Thieves review

From the pulse pounding hip hop soundtrack, the diverse group of experts, wild action and a pompous scumbag villain itching to get taken down several pegs, it’s obvious that Righteous Thieves studied at the prestigious Academy of Fast and Furious School of Action Filmmaking.

It’s not even so much that Righteous Thieves took a page out of the Fast and Furious playbook so much as it felt like the filmmakers seemed to explicitly capture the full vibe and feel of this heist movie. Then just to be on the safe side, starting swiping elements from the Ocean’s Eleven films. Hey if you’re going to steal borrow from something, it might as well be the best of the genre.

This leads to the film’s inherent issue. None of the cast has the default cool charisma of George Clooney and Brad Pitt or the textbook example of a movie action hero presence like Vin Diesel, Jason Statham or Dwayne Johnson. In this case, imitation can only take the film but so far.

righteous thieves review - annabel

Through a series of flashbacks that would have been more effectively told than shown, we learn master thief, Annabel (Lisa Vidal, Being Mary Jane) was mentored by a Holocaust survivor at a young age. Now, she’s part of the council of a Syndicate of predominantly Jewish elders that carry out some mysterious agenda.

Indicative of much of the film in terms of character backstory and history, debuting screenwriter Michael Corcoran glosses over important elements like the Syndicate’s purpose and how a Latina came to rise to power in this organization. Yay for color blindness, but boo for not fleshing out the story. Annabel crossed the Syndicate on her last mission and her role in the group is at risk until she reveals she’s tracked down four paintings that belonged to her mentor, a powerful Syndicate member.

righteous thieves review -eddie, nadia, lucille and annabel

Given the greenlight, Annabel assembles her team to steal the paintings from wealthy neo-Nazi, Otto Huizen (Brian Cousins). First there’s her right-hand man Eddie (Carlos Miranda, Bosch), computer whiz Lucille (Jaina Lee Ortiz. Girls Trip), locksmith Nadia (Sasha Merci) and wildcard Bruno (Cam Gigandet, Blowback).

Corcoran approaches the film like it’s the second or third sequel or the continuation of a long-running series. There’s a deluge of information filled with presumably important backstory that Corcoran isn’t nearly as interested in explaining so much as setting up the heist. With a two hour plus runtime, it’s not like Corcoran didn’t have time to flesh out the characters and their dynamics.

Annabel has a bounty on her head. Eddie and Lucille have a past that’s mentioned in passing, the crew possibly has their own connections within the Syndicate and there’s no real good reason why Bruno would be part of this crew. Corcoran writes Bruno like the “funny guy,” but Gigandet isn’t the kind of performer to play a goofball type of role let alone one written so consistently annoying.

righteous thieves review - bruno and lucille

There’s plenty of worthwhile character dynamics for Corcoran to explore. By largely shelving it, the film is just a generic heist film lacking the main draw of the Fast and Furious and Ocean’s films.

Director Anthony Nardolillo has a better sense of staging action scenes than the more conversational scenes. Some of this is due to the script blazing through vital character development moment to make these scenes more significant. Other scenes at times feel like Nardolillo gave the cast too much ad-lib freedom when their performances would have been enhanced from stronger direction. At least Nardolillo is in firm control for the fight scenes.

Ortiz in particular shines during these wild, drag-out battles while Merci finds a believable and likable grip on Nadia making her one of the standouts alongside Miranda, whose role probably should have been even larger.

For all of Huizen’s bluster and Annabel’s crew’s prep, the stakes don’t feel particularly life and death due mainly to Huizen’s bodyguards presenting much of a threat.

righteous thieves review - eddie

At times, the film feels like it would have made for a solid TV series. The elements are there with a decent cast, loathsome bad guys ripe to be taken down and live for the moment style presentation. Righteous Thieves really just needed more time to develop the characters to create enough investment in seeing how the crew can pull off this daring heist.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Photo Credit: Lionsgate