The new dirty-cop heist thriller Triple 9 doesn’t waste any time throwing the audience into an adrenalized state of confusion. Kicking off with a frenetic 10-minute action sequence that starts with a violent bank robbery and segueing into a high-speed chase and shoot-out, this grab bag of pumped-up macho clichés clearly wants to evoke comparisons to Michael Mann’s Heat. And it does—but not favorable ones. Who are these blunt-force thieves in ski masks? And why should we care about any of them? (No, seriously, I’ve seen the whole movie and I’d still like to know!) Of course, it isn’t a sin to keep the audience in the dark at the beginning of a movie (Reservoir Dogs did it exquisitely). However, it is to leave us there for two hours. The most impressive thing about Triple 9 is that it somehow manages to be both predictable and incoherent at the same time. Well, that and the fact that it manages to make half a dozen good actors look really lost.
Directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road), this jittery crime saga orbits a band of corrupt Atlanta cops (Anthony Mackie, Clifton Collins Jr.), strung-out ex-cops (Aaron Paul), and professional mercenaries (Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor) who are under the thumb of the ruthless Israeli-Russian Mob (led by Kate Winslet of all people, tarted up in red dominatrix boots, an oversize Star of David necklace, and a silly Rosa Klebb accent). For reasons never entirely explained, these dishonorable thieves owe Winslet’s Irina one last job. And it proves to be so logistically difficult that the only way they will be able to pull it off is by creating a diversion with a “triple 9”—the police code for “officer down.” With one of their brothers in blue killed in action, the entire force will flock to the scene, thereby giving these crooked thugs the additional minutes they need to get away. But which cop to sacrifice? The patsy seems obvious the moment that Mackie’s straight-arrow new partner (Casey Affleck, giving the only real performance in the film) starts asking too many questions.
Tossed into the mix is Woody Harrelson as Affleck’s uncle, a gonzo, weed-toking detective whose dazed-and-confused instincts are as sharp as the actor’s bizarre prosthetic buckteeth. One look at those goofy chompers (not to mention his Foghorn Leghorn drawl) and you think, Oh, it’s going to be one of those Woody Harrelson characters. The thing is, it’s not just one of those characters, it’s one of those movies. If you’re an insomniac with lax standards, you’ll know the kind of film I’m talking about. Strip away all of Triple 9’s star wattage and what you’re left with is the sort of disposable time-waster that turns up on Cinemax at 2 a.m. It’s not good, but it is just watchable enough to hold your attention until something better comes along. C–