Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
Before getting to “Army of Thieves,” it’s fair to ask why Netflix and producer Zack Snyder felt compelled to make a prequel to the zombie/heist mashup “Army of the Dead,” which doesn’t really demand its own cinematic universe. This more conventional heist yarn somewhat stands alone, but hardly feels like it has the right combination to merit this exercise.
The main holdover from the first film is German actor/director Matthias Schweighöfer, who played the safecracker Dieter, and not only stars in the film but directs it.
The main asset, however, is Nathalie Emmanuel (of “Game of Thrones” and “Fast & Furious”), who makes the most of her turn as the deadly brains of the outfit, Gwendoline, who recruits Schweighöfer’s character to help crack a trio of legendary safes.
Dieter is clearly over his head in Gwendoline’s eccentric band — and amusingly prone to letting out piercing screams during moments of danger — but he does have a knack for safecracking, an art illustrated by taking the viewer into the mechanism as only special effects can. That gets old pretty fast, which leaves behind the detailed mechanics of the plot, the questions about who can be trusted and Sebastian’s lovestruck stares at Gwendoline, the woman of his dreams.
Other than vague news accounts about something weird happening in Vegas (the location of the earlier movie), the connections to the earlier film prove limited. “Thieves” thus functions essentially as a rather low-octane comedy thriller, with a throwback feel that’s as breezy as it is disposable.
Snyder, notably, sold Netflix on a sequel (although the timetable for that remains fairly hazy) in addition to the first movie and this prequel, which more than anything indicates the streaming service’s hunger to get into business with a filmmaker whose superhero fare represents a high-gloss calling card for a particular audience.
Still, if turning the director loose on a zombie-action movie possessed obvious appeal, this sort of feels like throwing in a set of steak knives if you buy a new car.
Only Netflix can assess how well that arrangement winds up working out, but strictly on its own merits, other than Emmanuel’s standout performance, “Army of Thieves” doesn’t steal much more than your time.
“Army of Thieves” premieres Oct. 29 on Netflix.
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