Film Review: 211

A local cop on the brink of retirement has to deal with a gang of heavily armed bank robbers in this by-the-numbers action picture.
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Afghanistan: War-profiteer Donovan has just finished overseeing the transfer of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains to various banks around the world when his party is crashed by four mercenaries (one played by Weston Cage, son of Nicolas), who are mightily pissed off at not having been paid for the dirty work they’ve done on his behalf. Many dead bodies later, sexy Interpol agent Rossi (Alexandra Dinu) turns up at the scene, tossing her perfectly coiffed hair and talking tough, which she continues to do as the plot unfolds.

Chesterford, Massachusetts: The same four men—all ex-Special Forces and partial to doing things “the hard way”—are about to rob Unity Savings & Loan, one of the banks to which Donovan’s cash was disbursed. Since Chesterford is a small city whose police force lacks the resources and mindset of, say, New York or Los Angeles, they’re armed to the teeth and they intend to get in and get out with military precision, what could go wrong?

The unsurprising answer is that Mike Chandler (Nicolas Cage), a local cop, is what can go wrong, even though he’s so overloaded with backstory it’s a wonder he can move. His wife of 30 years has just died of cancer. He’s being forced to retire. His daughter, Sarah (Sophie Skelton), is mad at him because he fell apart during her mother’s illness. His partner, Steve (Dwayne Cameron)—who’s also his son-in-law—is trying to play peacemaker. And he’s stuck with a ride-along, Kenny (Michael Rainey Jr.), an African-American teenager who, unless he participates in the ride-along program, is going to be expelled from school because he took a swing at three white classmates who ambushed him in the bathroom and shoved his head into a urinal. You know, zero tolerance for fighting, even for one kid cornered by three bullies. “We do these ride-alongs all the time,” a police officer assures Kenny’s worried mother. “It’s completely safe.”

So, next thing you know Mike notices that something’s amiss at Unity and suddenly he’s on the front lines of a breaking news story. There are hostages inside, Steve has been shot and the kid is still in the back of their squad car, furiously recording everything on his cellphone. Kenny’ devotion to his phone is among the more convincing aspects of this formulaic siege movie, inspired by a botched 1997 Los Angeles bank robbery dubbed the Battle of North Hollywood (which also inspired the 2003 TV-movie 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out) because the robbers turned out to be so heavily armed and willing to use their arsenal.

“Inspired by real events” is a term even less reassuring than “based on” when it comes to relative fidelity to reality, and 211 is clearly more than anything inspired by every urban action-movie cliché imaginable. It also unfolds with considerably less urgency than one might expect from a film in which bullets fly like angry hornets and characters bark lines rather than speaking them. Of course Mike is about to retire. Of course Steve and Sarah have just found out that she is pregnant. Of course Kenny’s mom is an ER nurse. Of course there are lessons to be learned about long-held prejudices and first impressions and of course there will be tensions between different branches of law enforcement. Adhering to a formula is one thing, but this cliché overload pushes 211 over the line that divides undistinguished movies from bad ones. 211, by the way, is police code for a robbery in progress: Note to whom it may concern—if most potential viewers have to look it up, it’s not a good title.

At this point in his career, the once-mercurial Cage has settled into relying on two expressions—a wolfish grin and a pained grimace, the latter of which dominates his grimly workmanlike performance. The grin finally makes its appearance in an amazingly awkward, apparently tacked-on final scene in which it’s painfully clear that most of the actors are not in the room together. 211’s theatrical release will be a brief one, paving its way to streaming and DVD markets, where Cage’s name—however diminished by the slew of similar action pictures he now has to his credit—may help drum up some viewer interest.

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