Feared mob boss Pope (Robert De Niro) runs a casino as part of a money-laundering operation for the biggest crime families in the city. He does no favours and deals ruthlessly with thieves. When Vaughn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a dealer at the casino, has the temerity to beg for a loan to pay medical bills for his cancer-afflicted daughter, Pope coldly turns him down. He fires Vaughn then has him beaten up for his trouble. Thereafter Cox (Dave Bautista), a hulking security guard approaches Vaughn with an offer to join his heist crew. When they rob Pope's casino they figure the mob will be unable to report the stolen money. Despite Vaughn's careful planning the heist turns into a shootout, whereupon the getaway driver panics and flees. Before long Vaughn and Cox are on the run with an injured cohort, chased by cops and Pope's vengeful mobsters.
Between them British director Scott Mann and screenwriters Max Adams and Stephen Cyrus Sepher - who devised the story and plays the hapless getaway driver - seem on a mission to revive all the filmmaking tropes from the Nineties. For its first thirty minutes Heist brings to mind all those Quentin Tarantino knock-off heist thrillers from two decades ago. The wildly derivative screenplay doles out time jumps, mobsters prone to philosophical monologues, a diner scene not only straight out of Reservoir Dogs (1992) but with the audacity to do a variation on Steve Buscemi's "why do I have to be Mr. Pink?" routine, a Mexican stand-off, profane wisecracks and hit-men that layer their sadism with cool guy posturing. Heck, even the scene where one character takes a shotgun blast of rock-salt is straight out of Kill Bill Volume II (2004). Mercifully the filmmakers refrain from aping Tarantino's pop cultural references although Heist is occasionally guilty of rehashing some of his would-be ironic racism (the crooks heap abuse on an Asian hostage for attempting an 'I no speakee English' act) and misogyny (begging for her life, a female drug-addict attempts to fellate a hit-man who puts a bullet in her skull).
On top of all these Tarantino-isms Heist goes on to lift choice bits from Michael Mann (ageing criminals deal with the weight of decades of bad life choices), Christopher Nolan (sleek yet oppressive city-scapes, audacious car stunts) and of course Martin Scorsese. It is not enough that De Niro more or less reprises his role from Casino (1995). Scott Mann takes things a step further by recreating actual shots of the star from the earlier movie. Past the half hour mark, out of nowhere, the film abruptly transforms into Speed (1994) as the thieves hijack a bus that then can't slow down with both gutsy policewoman Kris Bahos (Gina Carano) and Pope's ruthless right hand Dog (Morris Chestnut) in pursuit. Kris is paired with Detective Marconi (Mark-Paul Grosselaar) who seems strangely flippant about endangering innocent lives until the film pulls the latest in a continuing string of twists.
To the film's credit, unlike many Tarantino imitators, it does have a solid emotional core closer to the work of Michael Mann. Jeffrey Dean Morgan anchors the film with an impassioned turn as a decent guy, struggling to find his way out of a horrible situation and ensure crooks and passengers alike make it out okay, including a pregnant woman (Lydia Hull), a runaway child and a trigger-happy idiot. Even a seemingly superfluous subplot about Pope's effort to reconcile with his estranged daughter, played by Kate Bosworth, fits into an overarching theme of fathers trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of their daughters. Scott Mann does a competent job handling the action sequences, including a dynamic SWAT assault on the bus, and the plot twists are compelling if far-fetched. Performances are generally solid all round. It is strange to see an actor of Robert De Niro's stature rubbing shoulders with DTV staples like Bautista (whose acting continues to improve) and Gina Carano (whose acting has not improved) but no stranger than seeing the great man debase himself in Dirty Grandpa (2016). By the time Heist stops ripping off Speed long enough to pull off a The Usual Suspects (1996)-style switcheroo and throw in a moment of redemption for a hitherto seemingly irredeemable character more forgiving viewers might feel content to surrender to its derivative charms.