What little marketing there was for “Setup,” a 2011 straight-to-DVD crime thriller, focused on the presence of Bruce Willis, who has about 10 minutes of screen time. I understand why you’d take every opportunity to use Willis’ name, especially when your other two stars are just 50 Cent and Ryan Phillippe, but I think they missed the real selling point here, which is that “Setup” has a scene where 50 Cent pours a jug of antifreeze over Ryan Phillippe’s head. You probably never even realized that this was something you’d like to see, but it is, isn’t it?
50 Cent has a pretty good reason for dumping antifreeze on Ryan Phillippe. (In the movie, anyway. I don’t know if he has any justification in real life. I mean, probably.) For you see, in “Setup,” they are lifelong friends who pull a heist together, but then Mr. Phillippe double-crosses Mr. Cent and leaves him for dead. If that doesn’t warrant an antifreezing, I don’t know what does.
Mr. Cent plays Sonny, a Detroit crook who tells us in narration that he wanted to be a priest when he was young but ultimately decided to be a jewel thief, possibly for better job security. Sonny, Vincent (that’s Ryan Phillippe), and their third friend Dave (Brett Granstaff) perpetrate a loud, bullet-ridden daylight robbery of a transport vehicle carrying a briefcase full of diamonds, right in the middle of downtown. Vincent shoots the courier in the head, too, which was not part of the plan. They get away before the police arrive, probably because it’s Detroit and the police are occupied with the ten other robbery-murders taking place simultaneously.
Back at the rendezvous point is where Vincent does his double-crossing, shooting both Dave and Sonny and making off with the diamonds himself. Dave, having had the misfortune to be played by the less famous actor, dies immediately, while Sonny is merely wounded. (50 Cent has been shot so many times for real that he probably didn’t even make them use blanks. “Blanks are for punk-a** b****es!” is what I imagine him saying, politely asterisking himself because there are ladies present.) Sonny grieves the death of one friend and the loss of another in the traditional fashion, by going to a church to mouth off to a priest.
PRIEST: Rest assured he is in a better place now.
SONNY: How do you know? You ever been dead before?!
That’s a sick burn and all, Sonny, but you did walk into a church and tell a priest your friend died. What did you expect him to say? Don’t move to Portland and then get mad when it rains, that’s all.
It turns out that the people whose diamonds were stolen are not happy about it, but they’re willing to overlook Sonny’s involvement if he helps them find and kill Vincent. This dovetails nicely with Sonny’s plan, which was to find and kill Vincent. But in the process of looking for Vincent, Sonny runs afoul of a different group of criminals, headed by a mob boss named Mr. Biggs, who’s played by a hairless smirk named Bruce Willis. Mr. Biggs lets Sonny make up the offense by doing a job for him. This is an unnecessary tangent in a movie that’s only 87 minutes long anyway, and it ends with Mr. Biggs’ goon — played by UFC fighter Randy Couture — accidentally shooting himself in the head at Sonny’s weed dealer’s house, whereupon his body is disposed of via meat grinder. That’s gross, not to mention unnecessary, since ground-up Randy Couture doesn’t look much different from regular Randy Couture.
ANYWAY. Sonny figures the driver of the jewel car, a gorgeous woman whom he had the opportunity to kill during the heist but didn’t, must have been in on the set-up. He goes looking for her in the hopes that she’ll lead him to Vincent. Meanwhile, we learn that her name is Mia (Jenna Dewan), and she’s Vincent’s sister. Sonny and Vincent have been friends all their lives, so you’d think Sonny would know Vincent’s sister, but the joke’s on you, dummy, because he didn’t. Mia’s role in the set-up was to get a job driving the car, which she achieved by becoming the girlfriend of a high-level boss at the diamond exchange. “I f***** this guy for six months to make this happen!” she shouts angrily at her brother. Vincent betrays no visible reaction to his sister’s declaration of commitment/sluttiness.
Watching the movie up to this point, and seeing what kind of movie it is — cold, mean, ugly — you’re thinking: When will we get to the part where a woman gets beaten up? Well, don’t worry, here it comes! A goon representing the criminals Vincent and Mia stole the diamonds from barges into Mia’s apartment (she leaves the door unlocked, I guess in case someone needs to stop by and murder her), savagely beats her, and throws her through every glass surface in the place. Story-wise, this happens so that Vincent will have a reason to hate the criminals he stole the diamonds from … whom he already hated and who he knew wanted to kill him. Now he hates them MORE, though, as you can tell by the way famous tough guy Ryan Phillippe glares a little harder and purses his lips even more prettily than before.
Oh! Vincent and Mia’s father is in prison. It’s not relevant, but the movie keeps showing him to us, so I figured I should mention it. Sonny goes to see him about now and says, “Is there anything you want me to tell your son before I kill him?” He goes all the way out to the prison, probably has to take a bus to get there, gets patted down and goes through the security check, just to taunt the incarcerated father of the guy he’s getting revenge on. That’s some hardcore dedication. Also: probably just as well he didn’t become a priest.
Speaking of which, there is lots and lots of God talk in this movie, as if Sonny were some kind of “fully developed character” with “conflicted emotions” and not the dimwitted collection of Movie Criminal cliches that he is. He goes back to argue some more with the priest he was rude to earlier, and he and Mr. Biggs have a theological discussion in the backseat of a limo on their way to kill some people. (“Do you go to church?” is how Sonny begins this conversation, smoothly.) There’s talk of free will vs. destiny. Is all this the same thing as being deep? The movie thinks so. Actually, no, the movie probably doesn’t really care.
To the extent that it was written and directed at all, “Setup” was written and directed by a stunt coordinator named Mike Gunther. Stuntmen tend to be tough guys, so it’s strange that “Setup” spends so much energy desperately trying to seem tough. Ryan Phillippe swaggers like he’s some hard gangsta and not Ryan Phillippe, 50 Cent can’t quit scowling or start acting, and everybody’s dropping F-bombs constantly and conspicuously like sixth-graders who just learned to swear. That being said, it’s better than “A Good Day to Die Hard.”