The surcharges, they sure do take a bite.
So says the plurally named writer/director Andrews Jenkins in his feature debut, "How to Rob a Bank," a unfocused yet enjoyably quirky comic thriller about the perils of insufficient funds. Perhaps inspired by the harsh situation of having too little money to retrieve from the ATM, Jenkins fills his movie with monologues about the unfairness of bank fees, how the rise of the ATM lands banks big profits by putting real tellers out of work, and how we, as a society, just don't have the time to keep track of all those convenience fees tossed our way.
Of course, as the title suggests, it's first and foremost a heist flick. The film opens mid-caper, with an everyman schmuck nicknamed Jinx (Nick Stahl) locked in a bank safe with teller Jessica (Erika Christensen) while a high stakes robbery (led by Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale, continuing an unexpected transition to the screen) unfolds outside. It's the darnedest thing: Jinx wants out, the robbers want in.
Is Jinx a robber himself? A nut case who finally snapped? Or just some poor dolt who wandered into the wrong bank on the wrong day? We'll find out soon enough. Until then, all we need to know his that problems stem from being unable to withdraw his last twenty dollars from the ATM due to that pesky buck-fifty surcharge.
Jinx's peculiar predicament lands him in the odd spot of being a go-between among the frustrated police negotiator (Terry Crews), the bank robbers, and the mysterious "Nick" (David Carradine), who planned the whole thing from the outside and may have more sinister intentions for his employees. Jenkins' screenplay finds comedy in infusing everyday frustrations into this genre set-up: cell phones cut out, three-way calls frustrate, and sometimes people just gotta pee. We come to view Jinx as a hero, because he's us, the average joe who doesn't want any trouble yet can't avoid it.
Unfortunately, Jenkins can never quite decide what he wants his film to be, and a finale that puts emphasis on flashy visuals (ah, the old spin-the-camera-nauseatingly-around-the-actors-in-slo-mo shot) and loud theatrics seems way out of place when compared to the lighter, breezier notions that come before. We shift from offbeat comedy to overbearing thriller and back again repeatedly. Things work best when Jenkins stops trying to be serious or slick and focuses on the humor of the situation. There's a human element in this film that works; if only Jenkins would have let that side of the picture breathe more, instead of worrying about flashy visuals and hip dialogue. (An entire conversation about Duran Duran just plain tries too hard.)
Still, when that human element does breathe, and we chuckle at these characters' struggles with cell phones and bad luck, the film succeeds. The performances are mostly sharp (especially Crews, who, of all the cast members, best realizes he's in a comedy, and plays accordingly), and as such, the film counter intuitively works best when there's not much going on but the bickering. Andrews oversells his surcharge rant, but does so with enough of a wink that we're willing to buy the tirade, if only for the wisely brief eighty minute running time.
Video & Audio
"How to Rob a Bank" looks splendid in this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Crisp and clear, with solid colors (especially in the intentionally just-slightly-overlit vault scenes), the image shows minimal grain, with no compression issues.
The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack focuses on the dialogue, which comes through nicely, with most of the focus remaining on the front speakers. Music and effects are mixed smartly. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided.
"The Making of How to Rob a Bank" is divided into two parts: "The Story" (4:08) and "The Characters" (5:57). Both are short promo bits created to run in between programs on IFC. "The Story" has Jenkins and, later, producer Rick Lashbrook discussing the tone and style of the film. "The Characters" features Jenkins, the producers, and the three leads delivering more EPK-style interviews, recapping the story and the roles. (Presented in 1.78:1 flat letterbox.)
A batch of previews for other IFC/Weinstein titles plays as the disc loads.
"How to Rob a Bank" builds enough on solid ideas and interesting characters to make up for its clumsier attempts at suspense. The movie and disc are both too lightweight to demand repeat viewing, so you'll do fine to simply Rent It.