i don’t know if the title is supposed to be set up or setup, depending on whether you go by imdb, the dvd cover, the dvd disc, redbox, or netfLIx. in any case, this is the just released direct-to-dvd crime drama with curtis “50 cent” jackson, or 50 “curtis jackson” cent, ryan phillippe (54, i know what you did last summer, the way of the gun, the d-t-v statham/snipes vehicle chaos, macgruber), and the main attraction for me, BRUCE willis.
i’ve never actually seen a movie starring mr. cent before. he’s also one of the producer of setup/set up. it’s from the same company that produced a bunch of other movies that you see at your local, possibly urine-soaked redbox machine. they produced gun (2011) starring 50 cent and val kilmer; streets of blood, starring 50 cent and val kilmer; some of the later seagal d-t-v movies (out for a kill, submerged, today you die, mercenary for justice) and some that actually made it to theatres (16 blocks, king of california, 88 minutes, righteous kill, rambo iv, and nicolas cage in the wicker man). with such pedigree, and despite the presence of BRUCE, i didn’t really expect much.
fiddy jackson, phillippe, and brett granstaff (also in streets of blood) are friends from high school who go on a diamond heist together. phillippe betrays them and left them for dead in order to keep all the profit for himself. granstaff’s character dies, which leaves fiddy to avenge his friend’s death, get back at the traitor, and take back his cut of the money, not necessarily in that order. along the way he crosses paths with BRUCE as the local mob boss, and randy couture (ufc, cradle 2 the grave, today you die, redbelt, the expendables, the scorpion king 2) as willis’ muscleman. there’s also jenna dewan-tatum aka mrs. channing tatum (take the lead, step up 1 in 1D, the grudge 2, tv’s joey, tv’s the playboy club, rob schneider is the hot chick) as the driver, and maybe more; and will yun lee (die another day, torque, elektra, the king of fighters) playing the mickey rourke role from the expendables.
it’s not as generic as the title and the plot summary suggest. as mentioned, it’s more of a crime drama than an action movie. action fans may be disappointed in that, and the couture character. he doesn’t get much action in the movie and plenty of people would probably be disappointed by what happens to his character, which kind of plays as a joke. what fans should complain about though, is the main heist sequence, which at first raises your expectation but then it ends up being just a bunch of guys shooting guns. there’s also another shooting scenes at the end. both of these scenes could have used a little choreography.
the acting overall ranges from adaquate to decent, and BRUCE doesn’t disappoint. i was at first worried that it’ll be like the expendables where they put him in the trailer when in fact he only has a cameo but he’s actually in quite a bit of the movie and lends the movie a bit of gravitas like alec baldwin in glengarry glen ross. this is not quite high up on that level but willis is nevertheless amusing and commanding in his scenes. it looks like he’s having fun playing the part. the same goes for couture, who in one of the special features on the dvd, named the die hard movies as the best movies of all time. couture+
the film is directed by mike gunther, who’s an experienced stuntman with impressive credits. his only other directorial credit is beatdown, the kind of movies coined punchfighting movies by our friend comeuppance reviews. it’s not really my kind of movies. based on the reviews, beatdown seems to suffer from the post-action/avid farts syndromes. thankfully, gunther didn’t do any of that in set up/setup. it’s a wise decision on his part and fits the story.
there are the elements of the young criminals heist and guns, and the freeze frames of a character with title cards (the hitman, the muscle, the driver, the mob boss) biz-ness. guy ritchie pretty much made a whole career out of these same stories. but i like that they were restrained enough to do away with all the slow down speed up editing bullshit tricks. the dialogues may not be great but they also didn’t sound overwrought and overwritten like a lot of the post-tarantino wannabes. though there are definite traces of tarantino here: with the last couture scene, the willis rant about technology (which recalls the john mcclane/analog hero in a digital world bit, except with more words here), the attempts at humor in inappropriate situations, dewan-tatum’s character is even named mia. there’s also a pot dealer they visit and the importance of car trunks.
there are some problem in the screenplay as a whole. there is a lack of urgency in the movie, which is kind of crucial in a crime film. the characters’ motivations and goals are not always logical and clear. they are the people who would rather take the long way or detour than going from point a to point b. as a result, the film feels longer than it is, and it’s only 85 minutes long. it needs a few more drafts to sharpen its focus. there doesn’t seem to be a through line to hang all the scenes together, but at the same time, a lot of the scenes work in and of themselves. i don’t think i can say that about a lot of movies.
the film is beautifully shot, with grand rapids standing in for detroit. and i do appreciate the fact that they did it without the needless editing/zooming that plagued a lot of d-t-v movies. there is also a surprisingly lack of male posturing usually seen in this genre. as one of the producer, jackson seems to be able to put in some of his personal beliefs into the movie (note the final one on one showdown). he also shares an unexpectedly philosophical moment with BRUCE in a limo, a limo-scene as i will start to call it. the religious element also doesn’t feel trite.
i wouldn’t rush out to get it but if it’s on instant or if you can’t decide on anything standing in front of the redbox (with hobos around and people in line behind you, you could do a whole lot worse.
p.s. this is the second d-t-v bruce willis movie, the first being assassination of a high school president. a lot of people seem to take that as a warning sign for his career. while that may be true in the past considering the careers of seagal or jean claude van damme or wesley snipes i don’t think it necessarily means anything anymore, considering the fact that people like jason statham, ben affleck, and soon nic cage having both d-t-v and theatrical releases. either the d-t-v movies are getting better, or the theatrical landscape has gotten more homogenized and competitive.