John Hillcoat's Triple 9 is doubly disappointing, wasting talent and our time with underworld cliches previously covered in other movies that ultimately didn't matter. This cynical slice of lowlife will join them soon enough.
It's a problem when every move a movie makes is a reminder of movies that everyone should have walked out of before. Not that Triple 9 is as incompetently macho-empty as Brad Pitt's Killing Them Softly or Christian Bale's Out of the Furnace, but it's close.
The plot is outlined with its opening line: "The more jobs we do for these guys, the more they squeeze us." Speaking is Det. Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), leader of a band of crooked Atlanta cops pulling off heists for the current go-to evil syndicate, the blackmailing Russian mob. We don't learn any of this until Hillcoat shows off his considerable action chops, with 10 minutes of mayhem unmatched until much later.
By then we have an idea of how much acting firepower director Hillcoat is packing, with such talents as Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Clifton Collins Jr. and Norman Reedus as Atwood's accomplices. Each actor sweats and seethes well, responding to a car trunk filled with corpses-to-be, another car trunk decorated with severed heads, various threat sessions and one last stocking mask robbery with shotgun Tasers and headband bombs. Nothing makes much sense except the explosions.
The gang's scheme is complicated by the arrival of honest detective Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), who may also be their way out of mob clutches. They plan to divert law enforcement from a heist by staging a "999," police radiospeak for "officer down." Chris will be that officer.
But wait, there's less. Matt Cook's screenplay cut-and-pasted from others manages to shoehorn a familiar role for Woody Harrelson and a new one Kate Winslet should never attempt again. Harrelson plays Chris' supervisor, a debauched straight-talker straight out of True Detective or Rampart.
That role is in Harrelson's wheelhouse, unlike Winslet's turn as the Russian mob godmother, complete with accent and forehead-exposing 1960s hairdo, operating behind a kosher meatpacking front. Winslet plays a mobster curiously demure, as if trying to escape being noticed here. You can't blame her.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.