While watching the opening credits of Triple 9, I couldn’t help but marvel as famous name after famous name was listed in front of me. Triple 9 is one of those kind of movies that would have been a huge deal if it boasted this kind of star power maybe even ten years ago, but now this kind of thing doesn’t matter anymore. Triple 9 will never be a “blockbuster,” no matter how many famous people are in it. It just doesn’t work like that anymore and no one is quite sure why.
Seriously, look at this cast: Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Gal Gadot (the new Wonder Woman!), Aaron Paul, and Norman Reedus. That almost reads like a new Cannonball Run movie. Yet, somehow, these are the types of movies that get lost today because it’s not a franchise movie and it’s not an Oscar contender. Triple 9 just kind of exists … and it’s coming out this week.
Directed by John Hillcoat – best known to strangers as the person who directed The Road and Lawless – Triple 9 is a nice enough gritty crime drama/heist movie that we seem to still get once a year or so. Someday Triple 9 can be packaged with A Walk Among the Tombstones in one of those “discount DVDs” bundles. Triple 9 is one of those movie you’ll probably watch at least ten times on TNT by accident before you die.
Casey Affleck plays Chris Allen, a cop – he’s a good cop, dammit – but the other fellas on the Atlanta PD make fun of him because they think he’s “soft” because he just transferred from the precinct that covers the relatively quiet area of Buckhead. But he’s a good cop, dammit. His partner, Marcus (Anthony Mackie) is not a good cop. He’s a bad cop. He’s a cop we see help rob a bank with a whole group of other unsavory types (played by Paul, Ejiofor, and Reedus to name a few) in the first scene of the movie, so we know his morals might be questionable. But as time goes on, Marcus starts to like Chris. Then Chris saves Marcus’ life. But Marcus is secretly a wanted criminal. And you see, this sets up what is known as “conflict.”
The title of the movie refers to the code that’s issued when a police officer is down. In these cases, police officers will drop whatever they are doing and rush to the scene of the “999.” When this event happens, it sets up an opportunistic time to commit other crimes – which Marcus is well aware of. And that’s the thing, Micheal (Ejiofor) is being blackmailed into doing one last job by a Russian mobster, played by Kate Winslet (who I wish was in this movie much more than she is). This job requires breaking into a heavily guarded government building to steal some floppy discs. (Obviously an homage to a time period when people would pay to see movies like this in a theater.) It’s at this point that Marcus realizes a “triple 9” would come in handy about the time this heist is being pulled off. And folks, we’ve now got ourselves a title for a movie.
(I can only assume that after this job, they’d then be forced to steal some sort of device that can still read floppy discs. I bet they’d fail.)
Triple 9 is one of those movies that passes my $15 rule (I keep having to raise it, this amount may fluctuate depending on where you live), here’s how it works: Let’s say it’s February in New York City (because it is). Let’s say it’s Saturday afternoon and it’s really cold outside and I have nothing to do. “Hey, how about this Triple 9 movie?,” I don’t really ask myself because I have already seen the movie. Then I am dazzled by all of the famous people and great actors in the movie, prompting me to say, “One ticket to Triple 9, please.” After the movie is over, after two hours in the nice warm cozy confines of my local AMC, I would walk out and not feel compelled to ask for my money back. I’d say to myself, “Okay, that was worth the $15 to get out of the cold.”
(I really do hope that winds up on a movie poster. If anyone wants to photoshop “It’s worth the $15 to get out of the cold – Mike Ryan, Uproxx,” onto the Triple 9 poster, I will retweet you and you will have my undying love for about three hours. I know that’s not much of a reward, but it’s all I can offer.)
A few of you will see Triple 9 this weekend, but a lot of you won’t. That’s just the way movies work now no matter how serviceable it is or how many famous people appear in the movie. Truthfully, I’m still getting used to this. I still can’t believe a movie like Snowpiercer – an action movie starring the guy who plays Captain America – can’t be a “huge hit” in the United States. But, this is where we are.
I saw a lot of people making fun of Bill Simmons’ “Ryan Reynolds isn’t a movie star” piece from a few years ago, now that Deadpool is crushing February and rated-R records. I don’t want to dive too deep into that specific piece, but if Reynolds could open Triple 9 to huge box office numbers, yeah, maybe we could look back at that piece and laugh? But, as hard as it was to get made, Deadpool is still a Marvel (via Fox) franchise superhero movie. It fits into that category of “things people still see.” Looking back, it was remarkable that Green Lantern was such a turkey, because the overwhelming majority of superhero movies do really well. (For the record, I’ve always liked Reynolds and I am glad he’s finally got himself a hit movie franchise.)
Maybe Triple 9 will surprise us and do better than it’s expected to do, but it will probably just remind us that movies with a lot of big names like this just don’t create the excitement they once used to … well, at least not until you’re flipping through stations and see this on TNT.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.