Setup (2011) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

Setup is a low-key thriller with lots of energy and a willing cast but the entire film is brought down a notch by a plodding second act that nearly derails the entire enterprise. When a heist goes bad there is no one to blame but each other. That’s the basic theme of this routinely made crime film. The story is about three young men that have grown up together. Each are struggling to make money outside of criminal endeavors. Unable to make ends meet in legitimate jobs the posse end up in over their heads after a botched robbery. These low level hoods attempt a risky diamond heist in the first act that is handled well (think The Town-lite) and generates a fair amount of suspense and excitement. After a successful getaway Vince (Phillipe) betrays and murders two accomplices including Sonny (Jackson).

The better than expected script then turns into a revenge tale with a ‘fish out of water’ element. Sonny scours the city searching for Vince who has become mixed up with a mafia figure (Bruce Willis). The screenplay is filled with a number of amusing vignettes that are Tarantino-esque, such as a bodyguard accidentally shooting himself at a drug dealers house, a very European assassin tailing Sonny’s every move, emergency surgery at a tattoo parlor, and a visit to a butcher that specializes in turning corpses into hamburger meat.

Curtis Jackson (Gun, Get Rich Or Die Tryin’) has an intense screen presence that is once again wasted in a role beneath his considerable talent. The producers have surrounded Jackson with some name talent, unfortunately both Ryan Phillipe (MacGruber, The Lincoln Lawyer) and Bruce Willis (Red, Cop-Out) sleepwalk through their small roles. Jenna Tatum is under utilized and placed in a thankless role in which she is held at gunpoint, verbally threatened and then beaten within an inch of her life. That brutal final sequence is very reminiscent of the eerily similar scene in True Romance in which a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini throws Patricia Arquette through glass plated shower doors. I’m not sure if the inclusion of this scene was meant as homage or just a blatant rip-off, but either way it’s a disturbing section in an otherwise unmemorable movie.

Setup is being sold as an action film (particularly because of the presence of Bruce Willis) yet it’s far more similar to an Elmore Leonard film adaption. If that’s too highbrow of a reference for a website that reviews tons of straight to DVD titles I’ll be more helpful, it’s a lot like House of the Rising Sun in mood and action content.

Director: Mike Gunther
Stars: Bruce Willis, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Ryan Phillippe

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