Christian Gudegast's Den of Thieves comes in a cut above the usual trash that Gerard Butler stars in (Law Abiding Citizen, Olympus Has Fallen), which is to say it's a cut above movies that themselves are already passably diverting, largely owing to the Scottish actor's overcompensatory commitment to full-bodied bluster. Here, he again does his ham-sandwich-as-acting thing as "Big Nick" O'Brien Flanagan, the swaggering boss of "the Regulators," a major-crimes unit within the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Early on, hungover Nick shows up at a crime scene and asserts his brand of law enforcement: He takes a bite out of a cake with sprinkles and then chucks the remains among the actual evidence on the concrete, then chews out an FBI official for his veganism.
The masked men who botched the raid belong to a tight-knit group of thieves with military credentials. Their leader, the recently paroled Ray Merriman (Pablo Schreiber), has a poised demeanor but wild ambitions: He wants to lift $30 million in unmarked bills from the L.A. branch of the Federal Reserve.
Gudegast, who wrote and directed, proves himself primarily competent in the latter capacity, outfitting his ever-familiar milieu with flashes of freshly understated technique. The shootouts -- including the startling climactic one, a very Heat-ish last-man-standing scenario in a sea of stalled highway traffic -- also are sonically modest, as well as briskly, urgently paced. As a writer, he revels in narrative misdirection and nasty one-liners, but his handling of domestic affairs is woefully inadequate. Still, with the merry nonsense of Butler chugging Pepto-Bismol during a strategy session, Den of Thieves earns a nice spot in the watch-40-minutes-on-a-rainy-day canon.