First Look Pictures // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 23rd, 2009
Never underestimate your partner in crime.
Try not to let the considerable star power of Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) and Antonio Banderas (Femme Fatale) lure you in. The Code (formerly known as Thick as Thieves) is a straight-to-DVD thriller, and it never manages to rise above that vibe once during the entirety of its 103-minute running time.
Freeman plays Keith Ripley, an art thief who has managed to elude the police for decades. He's getting ready to pull off what may be the biggest job of his career: stealing two immensely valuable Faberge eggs from a museum. In order to do this, he's going to need some assistance. He recruits Gabriel Martin (Banderas), a reasonably gifted jewel thief who just might be ready to bring his game to the next level. While the pair pieces together their grand scheme, Gabriel begins conducting a passionate affair with Ripley's Goddaughter (a fact that makes Ripley none-too-happy). As you might expect, once the games of theft begin, so do the usual plot twists and double-crosses.
It doesn't really surprise me that these two stars would allow themselves to participate in a piece of junk like this. What does surprise me is that this film was never intended to be a straight-to-DVD release. All the pieces for a modest theatrical hit would seem to be here. Director Mimi Leder previously helmed such mild successes as Deep Impact, The Peacemaker and Pay it Forward, and the 25 million dollar budget afforded this film is considerably more generous than films of this sort usually receive. Alas, somehow just about every single aspect of The Code feels thoroughly amateur.
The biggest offender is probably the screenplay by television writer Ted Humphrey, who offers not a single original or interesting idea here. The plot is loosely based on Every Heist Movie Ever Made, going through the motions with tedious familiarity. Every plot twist is well-telegraphed in advance, and the twists are made worse when you consider that some of them directly contradict what has come before. Without wanting to spoil anything, let me give you a clue. If you watch the film, please note the big revelation regarding Banderas' character. Then contrast what you learn about his character with what happens during the first ten minutes of the film. Pure absurdity! There is only a little focus on the technical details of the heist, as the film focuses primarily on creating hip-looking montages set to overheated thump-n-bump music.
The dialogue here is particularly overwritten, unfortunately choosing to overemphasize just about everything anyone says. As such, many of the conversations sound as if they were penned by Lt. Commander Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Sometimes I just need to feel the rush...the juice, the thrill, the excitement of doing something I shouldn't be doing." The film is also guilty of a trap that bad writers frequently fall into, forcing characters to say things they would not normally say in order to bring the audience up to speed on the plot. This particularly applies to the police investigator played by Robert Forster (Jackie Brown), who is agonizingly forced to utter every single thought that crosses his mind regardless of whether or not it is appropriate to do so.
The performances are all rather unenthusiastic. Freeman is basically essaying the same sort of villain that he played in Lucky Number Slevin and Wanted, but he seems even less interested this time around. He utters his lines calmly and professionally, but one gets the sense that he is really phoning it in. Banderas doesn't seem to be trying very hard either, bringing little of his usual vigor to a role that desperately needs more character. Radha Mitchell has little to do other than look attractive. She admittedly does this quite well, but she is an actress capable of considerably more. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised by the participation of Rade Serbedzija, who also played a role in Moscow Zero, one of the worst straight-to-DVD films I have ever seen.
The transfer here is not remarkable, but it gets the job done half the time. There's a surprising level of grain here during some of the earlier scenes, though some of this may be intentional. Shading could be a bit better, but blacks are reasonably deep and the reasonably bright color palette is well-conveyed. Facial detail is a mixed bag throughout, seemingly varying from shot to shot. The same applies to the background detail, making The Code a film that veers between "awesome-looking" and "standard-def." Weird. The audio is rather unimpressive, particularly in the contrast between the music and the dialogue, as the former has a tendency to drown out the latter. Extras include a brief making-of featurette and some interviews with the cast members.
The best I can say for The Code is that it never becomes truly unwatchable. Considering the weak transfer and audio, lack of substantial features and the unimpressive nature of the film itself, I'd advise you not to bother attempting to crack The Code.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R