‘Army of Thieves’ Review: A Little Help From Some Old Friends

The heist at the center of “Army of the Dead,” the action-horror zombie flick Zack Snyder directed for Netflix earlier this year, wasn’t much of a heist at all — a cursory, surface-level safecracking scene that felt like a brief digression from all the violent zombie mayhem happening around it. “Army of Thieves,” a prequel starring and directed by the “Army of the Dead” ensemble player Matthias Schweighöfer, takes place in the very early days of the zombie apocalypse, and with the undead safely confined to the United States, the Europe-set “Thieves” is free to focus entirely on heisting. In fact, this is a heist movie about heist movies: While it stops short of outright parody, it’s meta in the extreme.

Heist movies tend of course to be similar and predictable, and “Army of Thieves” leans in, very self-consciously, to the style of the genre. You’ve got all the usual stuff — the assembly of the team of experts with highly specialized skills, the double-cross that’s really a triple-cross, the plan that looks like it’s failed only to turn out that the failure was part of the plan. A recent episode of “Rick and Morty” wittily summarized heist movies as “60% putting a crew together and 40% revealing that the robbery already happened,” and that strikes the heart of the problem: A winking attitude doesn’t make the extremely tired formula any less rote or tiresome. Despite the in-jokes and references (including nods to “Point Break” and “Heat”), the movie can’t transcend its own clichés.

Army of Thieves
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 7 minutes. Watch on Netflix.