Published Jul 23, 2015Raul Inglis, the writer of the derivative brotherhood crime drama American Heist, is known for writing deeply inconsistent, throwaway straight-to-home video trash starring actors like Dolph Lundgren, Michael Madsen and Jason Gedrick. Most recently, he penned the latest Uwe Boll flick, Suddenly, which, in addition to being borderline unwatchable, had a polemical disposition rendered moot by flawed logic and unflattering adolescent angst. American Heist, despite having a slightly bigger budget and an Oscar-winning actor (Adrien Brody), is pretty much on par with that bit of laughable crap.
Brody plays Frankie Kelly, a generalized street thug (his character inspiration appears to be a gold chain and early '90s rap videos) serving time for a crime he committed with his brother, James (Hayden Christensen). While his brother was in prison, James attempted to clean up his act, working as a mechanic (a mechanic that feels replacing a carburetor will somehow resolve an issue with a fuel-injected car) and dating 9-1-1 operator Emily (Jordana Brewster). When we're introduced to him, he's being declined for a small business loan with a bank. And rather than ask for advice on how to qualify for a loan, or building some savings, or developing a credit score, or looking into the plethora of small business grants available, he throws a hissy fit and jumps into a life of crime (after a few strained, atrociously written conversations with his inhuman cliché of a brother).
The main issue with American Heist is that it feels rushed. The exchanges between characters are clumsy and generic. There's no distinction between character voices, and Inglis's perception of low-class dialogue is simply to throw "fuck" into every sentence and have everyone refer to each other as "bro." Save basic actions and wardrobe, there's really nothing to distinguish characters from each other, save Emily, whose only characteristics are her profession and the fact that she's a woman. There's a sense that Inglis was bored by having to create a basic story around the impending bank heist climax, which appears to be the only sequence in which anyone invested any effort.
Worse is that Sarik Andreasyan isn't much of a director, and his resume suggests that his crowning career achievement was directing an Armenian version of the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, Junior. Andreasyan essentially just films the script as is, like a functional television project. Save a single stylization towards the end of the film — involving Christensen being jolted out of a haze — he uses standard medium shots with long takes of dialogue that exacerbate the lack of depth to the exchanges being presented.
With the basic technical aspects of American Heist being subpar and the brotherly redemption trope being as tired as they come, particularly when constructed with such indifference, there's only the climactic heist to justify making such a pointless film. But, sadly, even that is just a clumsy rehash of other, far superior bank robbery sequences in far better films. In fact, the only vaguely creative aspect was borrowed quite liberally from Spike Lee's Inside Job.
Considering that amidst the dialogue there are constant references to the evils of banks that ultimately try to justify the actions of the main characters — it's mentioned that bank CEOs make more in an hour than the brothers intend to steal — it seems the basic passion behind this project was the trendy anti-greed ethos common in a lot of American cinema of late. The problem here is that aside from the endless assertion that corporations are evil, there aren't any educated arguments or social observations that substantiate this claim, despite a very broad spectrum of evils to draw from.
What American Heist does is justify laziness and entitlement, featuring characters that are so defeatist and self-involved that they feel the world owes them something for not singling out their unique awesomeness and handing them a life of convenience. Since American Heist is a trite, hilariously bad, piece of rubbish made by people that are either working outside of their strength zone or who expect validation for doing a half-assed job, this ideological disposition isn't at all surprising.
Regardless, the fact that this B-grade fluff takes itself so seriously does add to the comedy factor. Unintentionally, American Heist is often quite funny.