One of the hazards of being a reviewer is that you frequently get that "déjà vu all over again" feeling when you watch various films. That happened to me quite recently when I felt like Echelon Conspiracy was cobbled together from leftovers of Eagle Eye. Perhaps a little more outré, though none the less echo laden, was the strange feeling I got while watching Chaos, a heist movie with an inside man angle that reminded me of, well, Inside Man. If neither of these films really registers on your personal radar, don't feel too overly concerned--neither made a huge dent in the box office, and were it not for the residual interest generated by home video releases (including Blu-rays for both of them), they probably wouldn't be high up on anyone's "must see" list.
And yet the two films (both from 2006--mere coincidence?) have a great deal in common. Both feature a spectacularly planned and staged bank heist with masked gunmen. Even the modus operandi of the thieves is similar, at least in certain perhaps obvious respects (disabling video cameras, grabbing all the cell phones, etc.). Both heists involve hostage taking. Both films feature a perhaps corrupt police officer attempting to rehabilitate his image by successfully negotiating the release of the hostages. The hostage stalemate in both films ends with spectacular explosions and all people inside the bank running out en masse, including the bank robbers, leaving the police to figure out who are the good guys (and gals) and who the bad. Finally, both films offer putative twists where characters aren't exactly whom you've been led to believe, either in the moral sense or in the actual identity sense.
While Inside Man benefited from the stylized direction of Spike Lee and an impressive lead performance by Clive Owen, Chaos is a bit more traditional, if not unexciting, in its directorial choices, more about which I'll discuss below. The performances are mostly excellent, with Ryan Phillippe the standout as a rookie detective thrust into a relationship with a disgraced cop (Jason Statham, who can never quite decide if he's doing a tough American accent or a lower class British one). Wesley Snipes is fun, if completely underutilized, as the main robber who always seems to be mysteriously two steps ahead of the cops, as if he had some inside information (hint, hint, nudge, nudge, say n'more). Justine Waddell's token female cop and love interest for Statham is so stupidly written, doing at least two unbelievably stupid things that set certain plot machinations into motion, that the actress simply can't overcome the odds despite her formidable presence.
Writer/Director Tony Giglio wants to bathe this story in a prescient glow of philosophizing and Usual Suspects gambits of everything meaning something after the fact. As a writer, he relies too much on these gimmicks at times, but manages nonetheless to craft two very believable characters in Phillippe's Shane Dekker and Statham's Quentin Conners. For all the rhapsodizing over Lorenz' chaos theory and how it plays into this crime, it's the little character moments that Giglio finds that really deliver the goods, as when Conners, trying to kick several bad habits simultaneously, discovers he's out of nicotine gum right at the height of one showdown. This isn't exactly a buddy cop film, more like a slowly evolving cat and mouse game where Dekker and Conners size each other up and decide who's predator and who the prey.
Giglio does some nice location shooting in and around Seattle, making the Emerald City seem like Crime Central, Northwest Division. The action sequences are for the most part staged very effectively, save for one laugh inducing sequence where Phillippe dons the most absurd helmet imaginable and absconds with a Hell's Angel's motorcycle to chase after a bad guy.
As with most of these films filled with plot contrivances, there are a number of lapses of logic which the astute viewer will probably go back and mull over after the film has ended. Giglio tries to hedge his bets with these by having Conners deliver a little monologue during the denouement of the film about things never going exactly as planned and elements of chance entering into a convoluted schematic, but there are at least two or three moments here that simply defy explanation, which I will refrain from discussing in detail due to not wanting to post spoilers. Generally I can say that when a a series of coincidences fall like dominoes or a character does something completely illogical just for the sake of setting up an action sequence or a really, really big explosion, you know there's something a bit lacking in the writing department.
Chaos is an acceptably terse and sometimes tense heist thriller with a couple of fun, if not completely unexpected, twists thrown in (one of which is a major cheat--one of the main characters is not who you think he is and despite a major subplot being about this character, he's never shown--as that character, at least--until toward the end of the film). It may be déjà vu all over again, but if you haven't seen Inside Man, this is an agreeable enough time passer that doesn't demand very much of its viewers, and similarly doesn't deliver a lot to them either.