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A Bag of Hammers (A Movie Review)

A Bag of Hammers

A Bag of Hammers


Starring Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, Chandler Canterbury, Rebecca Hall, Carrie Preston, Todd Louiso, Gabriel Macht, Sally Kirkland and Amanda Seyfried.

Screenplay by Jake Sandvig and Brian Crano.

Directed by Brian Crano.

Distributed by MPI Media Group.  85 minutes.  Not Rated

I can’t quite decide if A Bag of Hammers is supposed to be a quirky little slacker comedy or a more important drama – then again I don’t think the filmmakers could either.  A Bag of Hammers is sort of like mumblecore with not enough of the mumbling or the core.  It’s whimsical and lightweight one moment, deadly serious the next.  It’s an interesting and sometimes awkward mix, and eventually A Bag of Hammers’ shambling charms are overwhelmed by its contradictory impulses.

The heroes itself are contradictory, they seem nice and low-key, and yet they are often selfish and creepy – particularly to the women in their lives.  Ben (a nicely likable Jason Ritter) and Alan (co-screenwriter Jake Sandvig, who is more problematic as a lead) are life-long friends.  They were orphans and now live together, working as perhaps the world’s most unassuming scam artists and car thieves.

For basically nice guys, though, their scam seems awfully hard-hearted – they pose as valets at funerals and steal the cars of grieving relatives.  The film never seems to judge that this is a particularly shitty way to go about being a car thief, but the audience can’t help but do so.  You also can’t help but wonder how such a specific and obvious scam wouldn’t be shut down by the local cops in a matter of days, but they blithely seem to get away with it with no real recourse.

However, their thievery is not meant to define them in the film, it’s supposed to be more of a character trait, yet one more example of their Peter Pan complex.

Their inability (or unwillingness) to grow up is starting to grate on Ben’s younger sister Mel (a completely wasted Rebecca Hall) and his ex-girlfriend (played in a brief unbilled cameo by Amanda Seyfried).

Still, eventually maturity crashes their eternal party when they rent an extra room to a young mother Lynette (Carrie Preston) and her eight-year-old son Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury).  Lynette is further proof of the filmmakers’ unsure take on the story: she is sometimes portrayed as sweet, sometimes as pathetic and sometimes as a monster.  When Mel decides (somewhat arbitrarily) that Kelsey is being neglected, Alan feels a responsibility to care for him (as a former orphan himself) while Ben fights the idea.

And suddenly, A Bag of Hammers is a very different film than it started out to be.

The ultimate vibe that A Bag of Hammers gives off is actually very much like it’s heroes.  It’s sweet, often charming and kind of funny, but you usually get the feeling that it wants to do the least possible work necessary to tell its story.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2012 All rights reserved. Posted: May 11, 2012.

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