Director Nimrod Antal has made a solid impression with his directorial output thus far. With the atmospheric “Kontroll” and the merrily macabre “Vacancy,” Antal has proven himself a gifted genre engineer, able to pump fresh air into half-baked screenplays, with a solid command of big screen twists and turns. “Armored” is a coloring book of a motion picture, as routine a heist thriller as they come, but the whole shebang is directed with a charming impression of passion. It’s bottom-shelf junk food enjoying a convincing B-movie paint job, primarily because Antal appears invested in this scrappy thriller, not just collecting an easy paycheck.
Trying to pull his life together after the death of his parents and a military tour in Iraq, Ty (Columbus Short) has taken a job as an armored car guard, standing alongside his friend, Mike (Matt Dillon). On the eve of a colossal cash collection, Mike propositions Ty with a risky offer, asking the enthusiastic young man to help steal the money, with the assistance of some shifty maneuvers and a few needy co-workers (including Laurence Fishburne and Jean Reno). Ty, initially hesitant, eventually agrees to go along with the theft, if only to help keep his troubled younger brother (Andre Kinney) out of foster care. While the plan launches without a hitch, a series of accidents and panic attacks lead Ty to fear for his life, sealing himself inside one of the trucks while Mike and the boys work out a plan to retrieve the money and kill the unexpected traitor.
Clocking in at swift 80 minutes, “Armored” is refreshingly lean; it’s a streamlined thriller indifferent to labored characterizations or complex blueprints of thievery. The picture is a blunt object, and an energizing one at that. Antal shows primary concern for the thrill ride aesthetic, using Ty’s dilemmas with his kid brother and heavy monetary woes as the lift hill, getting the audience settled into the story through a plausible series of demands that could all be brushed away with a significant pile of cash. Ty is pushed into a corner, leaving Mike’s wicked offer the only way out of a lifetime of debt and worry. “Armored,” written by James V. Simpson, delivers a captivating set-up, getting Ty and the guys to a point of abandoned-steel-mill ecstasy as their plan commences spotlessly, leaving only the nasty business of alibis and truck torching left, with a comfy hour on a clock before the head office begins to wonder where the team disappeared to.
And then matters, as they typically do in this sort of movie, go straight to hell.
The screenplay is pure boilerplate, but Antal slides right over the hackneyed characterizations and shoos away the thick “Reservoir Dogs” haze, showing endearing commitment to the art of the low-budget thrill. It’s reminiscent of “Vacancy,” which was also scripted flatly and generally situated inside a single location, leaving the filmmaker hungry to build suspense through tight editing and considered camerawork. A silly mid-movie car chase between two lumbering armored trucks (0 to 60…in about a week) is an unfortunate stumbling block, but the rest of Ty’s confinement encourages some choice trigger-happy shock value, double-crosses, and an appearance by a meddling cop (Milo Ventimiglia). Antal keeps the brew bubbling agreeably, with the aid of some splendid actors (Fishburne, Reno), good actors (Dillon, Short, and Ventimiglia), and…er, actors (Skeet Ulrich and Amaury Nolasco, playing the fraidy cats of the guard pack) to communicate the hysteria.
“Armored” isn’t the most logical cinematic submission of the year, but I’m not sure I would want it to be. It’s a reasonably clean machine of escapist entertainment, directed resourcefully by Antal, who mines a generous amount of suspense out of a skeletal scenario. Screen Gems, who carelessly withheld the film from the press (short-sheeting the marketing push as well), should be ashamed. This is the best film they’ve released in years.Rating: B