Title: A Bag of Hammers
MPI Media Group
Director: Brian Crano
Screenwriter: Brian Crano, Jake Sandvig
Cast: Jason Ritter, Rebecca Hall, Jake Sandvig, Chandler Canterbury, Carrie Preston
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/19/12
Opens: May 11, 2012
This well-meaning but innocuous comedy-drama featuring Brian Crano’s TV-style direction and which is co-written by him and one of the principal performers is a story about redemption and emotional growth. However the pace is sluggish, the situations absurd, and the actors go about their roles mechanically in an underwritten script.
Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) have been buddies for years, living in the same California home adjacent to unemployed single mother Lynette (Carrie Preston) and Lynette’s 12-year-old son, Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury). Ben and Alan are scammers. They stand outside the local cemetery with a sign stating “free valet service,” but when the car keys are turned over, they flip the sign into the car, drive it to Marty (Todd Louiso), a fence who pays cash and who will “move” the car to another owner after making adjustments. Alan, who looks like a young Jim Carrey, is regularly counseled by his waitress sister Mel (Rebecca Hall), who wants him to give up a life of crime and get married. When Lynette commits suicide, Alan and Ben informally adopt Kelsey—who looks like Jodie Foster. Kelsey is thrilled to have someone finally care for him, saving him from the clutches of the authorities and from his busy-body 6th-grade Social Studies teacher, Wyatt (Gabriel Macht). The question is: will Kelsey, an adorable but needy kid, manage to redeem his temporary new parents, convincing them to give up their life of crime?
Carrie Preston is held back by the script, which has her going on job interviews, even cursing out the human relations counselor for asking whether she knows basic office machinery like Excel. To see Preston at her best, watch her in any of the five episodes of “The Good Wife,” which features her as a highly competent lawyer who is regularly distracted and in need of Ritalin. She “makes” the episodes.
Some of the skits are milked for banal humor, such as the dialogue between Ben and his ex-girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried). Both Ben and Alan are criticized by Alan’s sister for their shallow emotions: they allegedly do not feel empathy for others, at least not before Kelsey enters their world. Ultimately, “A Bag of Hammers” would make decent TV viewing, a trivial entry into movies depicting the emptiness of some twenty-somethings.
Rated PG-13. 87 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online