MOVIE REVIEW OF ”VAULT”

“Almost Mercy” writer & director Tom DeNucci and co-scenarist B. Dalton take on more than they can task in “Vault,” (** OUT OF ****), an ambitious but humdrum portrayal of a fateful robbery that also heralded the decline of the Italian mobs in America.  Basically, “Vault” depicts a little known but spectacular robbery committed by two small-time hoods who never learned that crime doesn’t pay.

In the “Vault” the notorious $34 million robbery took place on the morning of August 14, 1975, at the Hudson Fur Storage at 101 Cranston Street in Providence, Rhode Island’s West Side.  Not only did they pull off this once-in-a-lifetime score without casualties, but they also got clean away with more loot than you can ever imagine.  Afterward, they discover to their chagrin that enjoying their share of the loot would be far more drawn-out.

Up-and-coming thespians Theo Rossi and Clive Standen, who headline this low-budget crime saga, orchestrate the operation in this cliché riddled heist caper.  Several familiar crime genre stalwarts, Chazz Palminteri, Don Johnson, William Forsythe, Burt Young, Andrew Divoff, and Victor Pastore, provide sturdy support in peripheral roles.  DeNucci and company win brownie points for recreating the year 1975 with nothing egregious to burst the nostalgic bubble.

Unfortunately, DeNucci isn’t as gifted a maestro as Martin Scorsese, especially since Scorsese’s historic Mafia heist in “Goodfellas” (1990), co-starring Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, shares certain similarities with “Vault.”  Despite its’ commendable production values, this 99-minute, R-rated potboiler doesn’t boil often enough, resorts to hackneyed movie formulas, and ultimately tempts you to fast-forward the action to fadeout.

Indeed, crime doesn’t pay in “Vault,” but the authorities have never been able to prove in court without a shadow of a doubt who ordered the robbery.  DeNucci and Dalton have their own take on the mystery man.  The action pits criminals against criminals.  In fact, the police are seen only occasionally!  At the same time, DeNucci chronicles the friendship between the two protagonists, Deuce (Theo Rossi of “Cloverfield”) and Chucky (Clive Standen of “Patient Zero”), who met at age fifteen.

DeNucci delivers a few surprises along the way, but the action is largely generic.  The supreme irony of “Vault” is the Mafia may have been the culprits who made off with the $34 million.  Crime buffs may tolerate it once but watching it more than once is a waste of time.

Tom DeNucci covers lots of ground with little flair in this half-baked but historically sensational yarn.  During the opening 30 minutes, DeNucci and Dalton introduce Deuce and Chucky, and their first scene is reminiscent of something out of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.”  Poised to rob a pawnshop, Deuce refuses repeatedly to wear a mask.  Futilely, Chucky argues with him about the necessity for anonymity.

Everybody will only remember the muzzle of his revolver, Deuce rants, rather than his facial features.  Eventually, Chucky relents and then sheds his own mask.  The two gunmen enter the store and brandish their weapons.  All but one of the employees, Karyn (Samira Wiley of “Rob the Mob”), refuses to cooperate with Deuce’s revolver staring her in the face.

Deuce marvels at Karyn’s defiance and finds himself attracted to this fearless African American dame.  Oddly enough, despite her initial hostility, Karyn reciprocates Deuce’s interest. Later, she accompanies Deuce home and samples his mother’s cooking.  Meanwhile, Deuce and Chucky get too big for their britches and try to rob two banks in the same day.  Indeed, they might have gotten away with it, had Deuce not enlisted his younger brother, Tommy (Michael Zuccola of “Erebus”), as their getaway driver.

As he listens to the police-band radio, Tommy loses his nerve and splits seconds before Deuce and Chucky dive into the backseat.  The police surprise the pair, and they pull a stretch in prison.  A shady Frenchman, Gerry Quimette (Don Johnson of “Miami Vice”), recruits them as bodyguards to protect him from the Mafia.  Since he is French, Gerry cannot become a ‘made man,’ and Mafia chieftain Raymond Patriarca (Chazz Palminteri of “The Usual Suspects”) isn’t happy with Gerry’s blasphemous request.

Nevertheless, Raymond and Gerry have a complicated history of collaboration, and Gerry knows more about Mafia business than any non-Italian could and still eat breakfast each day.  After our protagonists are released from prison, Gerry contacts them about a heist at the Hudson Fur Company.  He promises them each a $70-thousand payday.

Initially, Deuce is leery about it, but Chucky persuades him to change his mind.  They hire five accomplices to help them clean out about 146 safety deposit boxes in a huge commercial vault at a private warehouse.  Nobody has ever dared to rob Hudson Furs, probably because everybody knew it was a Mafia safehouse.

DeNucci directs “Vault” as if it were a documentary.  First, neither Deuce nor Chucky engage our sympathy.  Low-life thieves that these characters are, the enigmatic actors portraying them struggle to give them any redeeming qualities.  Little about Deuce and Chucky is likeable.

Second, by the time these two give up the ghost, you’ll find nothing amusing about their naïveté.  Morally, DeNucci glorifies neither the crime nor the criminals.   DeNucci stages the heist, but he doesn’t forge a palatable sense of either dread or suspense.  The actual robbery is more monotonous than nerve-racking.  Our protagonists aren’t even in the vault while their accomplices drill industriously into one safe deposit box after another, piling up heaps of currency on the floor.

Meantime, Deuce and Chucky hold several Hudson employees at gunpoint.  Indeed, “Vault” musters a surprise or two, and one is the reversal ending that surprises both of them. DeNucci helms the first two-thirds of “Vault” with efficiency rather than finesse, while the final third, where Deuce and Karyn reunite, spirals into soap opera.

At this point, you’d think these guys would have realized they would get their share of the lead instead of the loot.  Despite the unique significance of its historical background, “Vault” qualifies as routine at best and uninspiring at worst.

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