MPI // 2011 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 5th, 2012
A comedy about good times and grand theft.
An under-the-radar indie gem filled with heart and humor? Or a bag of hammers?
Best friends Ben (Jason Ritter, Parenthood) and Alan (Jason Sandvig, Easy A) are content burning through their twenties as low-level con men. Their scheme: posing as valet attendants at funerals and then making off with a car to later sell to a fence. It's not honest work, but it allows them to maintain their slacker lifestyle.
Things hit a snag when a single mother (Carrie Preston, That Evening Sun) and her 12 year-old boy (Chandler Canterbury, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) move in next door, and it soon becomes clear she's unstable and possibly negligent. Ben and Alan are reluctant to step in, until circumstances spiral out of control and the two will have to decide if it's truly time to grow up.
I'm all over the place with this movie. The DNA of A Bag of Hammers seems to indicate a quirky sentimental indie gem. You've got two charismatic leads, a kid who's not annoying, and a plot that lends itself to a wide range of comedic tomfoolery and feel-good storytelling. While there are pockets of all of this present, it never comes together in a satisfying whole.
There certainly are moments that hit me in the emotional funny bone, and I won't lie and say I stood up to them with the steely resolve of an Alpha Male. But long after the final credits rolled and I had time to reflect on things, I believe I was manipulated into getting all misty-eyed and what not. Which I now realize is what ultimately kept the movie from hitting the sweet spot.
The prime culprit here is the kid's mom, Lynette. Nothing against Carrie Preston, who does a fine job portraying a strung-out overwhelmed single parent (and becomes something much worse), but the amount of focus given to her and her downward spiral throws the entire production off-balance. I get that the payoff is needed to jar Ben and Alan out of their apathy, but the build-up is so sustained and dominated so much of the film, there was little left for the meat of the story -- the relationship between the guys and their new ward. And even that is bitten into by an extended chunk of narrative dealing with Ben overcoming his issues to get to a point where raising some strange kid makes sense, which is good stuff too.
By the time we actually get what you'd think would be the nexus of all this angst, emotion, and quirk, the clock winds down and A Bag of Hammers enters into a full sprint. Decent stuff for sure, but only glimpses into the interaction of our heroic trio. There's a great montage towards the end that plays with these expectations -- powering through all the necessary "indie" beats with subversion and fun -- but we end up somewhere decidedly less plucky, and then it's over. Really? That's it?!
Yep, that's it. A nice final moment and some post-finale scenes to backfill the My Two Dads story help fill the void, but I can't escape the sense that A Bag of Hammers is essentially a missed opportunity.
MPI's Blu-ray is solid: a sharp 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen is joined by a spartan but punchy little DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix. A behind-the-scenes featurette is the lone extra.
A Bag of Hammers is entertaining and hard-hitting in places -- but something's off.
Doesn't quite hit the nail on the head.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated