Content cannot be entirely divorced from format. The parameters of a short film are drastically different from those of a feature-length one. It follows then that the resulting impact will be different as well. Short films make quick grabs for your attention while feature-length films deliver character arcs and look for ways to build and sustain interest for a couple of hours. The Bannen Way tries to bridge the gap between the two by stitching together 16 short webisodes into a semi-cohesive tale of thieves and conmen. While the final result isn't as compelling as it should be, there are definitely a few positive elements on display here including the lead performance by Mark Gantt and the visual flair of director Jesse Warren.
Neal Bannen (Mark Gantt) is in crisis mode because his personal life keeps colliding with his professional one. His dad is a cop (Michael Ironside) while his uncle, Mr. B (Robert Forster), is a mobster. In case you're curious which side of the family tree Bannen fell on, it's worth noting that he used to work for Mr. B. Since then he's taken his thieving ways in a more freelance direction. Give the guy some credit though. He wants to change. He wants to leave the criminal lifestyle behind. Standing in his way is the large debt he owes to rival gangster Sonny Carr (Ski Carr). Fortunately he has family to fall back on. Mr. B offers him a lucrative job to retrieve a mysterious box from the Mensch (Michael Lerner) who is yet another unsavory character thrown into the mix. Since Bannen runs a tiny outfit, just he and his tech guy Zeke (Gabriel Tigerman), it's time to go recruiting. This is where Madison (Vanessa Marcil) enters the picture. After meeting cute with Bannen over some mutual pick-pocketing, she joins his crew. Heists, double-crosses and a trio of female assassins ensue.
The Bannen Way owes a great deal to Snatch and the Ocean's series. It looks to the former for the colorful caricatures masquerading as gangsters and to the latter for its breezy, irreverent tone. Neal Bannen is a charismatic ladies man with the smug self-satisfaction of a grown up Ferris Bueller. It's a role that would quickly become annoying if it weren't for Gantt's disarming charm. He gives Bannen just enough vulnerability to make us believe that there is something at stake here. He also anchors the film which is much appreciated when some of the other characters are on screen. Ski Carr chews the scenery as Sonny, an over-the-top villain who insists on dancing before delivering vicious beat-downs. Michael Lerner is just as out there as the Mensch. I guess being a former Rabbi who is now a flesh peddler will do that to you. In comparison, Ironside and Forster are downright restrained as Bannen's dad and uncle.
The ladies in the film are mostly treated as glamorous objects for Bannen to ravish. Honestly, it's kind of amazing how many women are trotted out just so that Bannen can have his way with them and reaffirm his lothario status. Part of this is due to the episodic nature of the source material (which I'll get to in a minute) and part of this is building up his rakish Bond-like persona. Vanessa Marcil has the only feminine role of any consequence and does a good job with it. She is flirty but obtuse which helps give her character a much needed hint of mystery. A trio of female assassins nicknamed Jailbait (Autumn Reeser), Stiletto (Brittany Ishibashi) and Bombshell (Brianne Davis) also show up later in the film to provide it with a bit of unpredictable fun. While Bombshell isn't given much to do, Jailbait impresses with her lethal Lolita routine and Stiletto shows off her action chops as a steely woman of few words.
I've already alluded to the episodic nature of the film being a problem for me. This stems from the plot being conceived as a series of 5 - 8 minute long fragments. Gantt and Warren who co-wrote the film clearly wanted each webisode to have some exciting elements in order to drive viewership. This meant that each chunk had to feature a little sex, a little suspense and a little humor. Unfortunately when strung together, they produce a repetitive and numbing effect. By the time Bannen was bedding his fourth or fifth conquest, I felt no urge to high-five him (the intended effect I'm sure). Instead I wanted to sit him down and talk about how he needed a bit more focus in life. Then there's the matter of the botched finale. The final third of the movie loses all of the earlier exuberance in order to dredge up dark family secrets. By the time Bannen had his showdown with Mr. B, I realized things were veering dangerously close to Se7en territory and half expected Gantt to start whimpering "What's in the box?" It's an odd direction to take the film in and it doesn't really pay off.
Jesse Warren scores a lot more points in directorial capacity than he does as a writer. He gives the proceedings a glossy sheen that must have been tough on a limited budget. The flashy editing and stylistic choices give the impression of forward momentum even when the plot is standing still. I especially appreciated his playful approach to filming Madison and Bannen's first encounter as a silent, flirtatious dance of pick-pockets. The focus on style forces all the substance into the final third of the film which causes the climax to be a muddled mess. With that being said, Warren extracted good performances from his leads and kept me engaged throughout. I suppose that's the Warren way.
The movie was presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The image supported all of the quick cuts and flashy visuals with great clarity. Split screens, freeze frames and slow motion action shone through without any digital defects. A few of the darker scenes did seem to be lacking in shadow detail but it wasn't very noticeable.
The audio was presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix. This was a fairly clear audio mix that had more of a presence during the action-packed scenes like Stiletto's siege. I did notice some fluctuation of the audio level during a few of the scenes but it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the film. English and English SDH subtitles were available.
There is only one real extra feature on this release but it's an informative one. Getting Behind The Bannen Way is a 6 part making-of piece that runs for roughly 22 minutes. The first segment focuses on The Assassins (5:03) where we get to hear from Autumn Reeser, Brittany Ishibashi and Brianne Davis who play the lethal trio of femmes on the hunt for Bannen. Besides discussing their approach to the characters, they discuss the heightened quality of a web series and how it differs from a regular film. From here, we move on to interviews with The Babes (3:19) where we hear from a few more ladies on the difficulties of filming sex scenes while seated on wooden desks.
The Girl (3:18) focuses on Marcil and the mysterious nature of Madison. She describes Madison as being a grounding force within the film and finds her to be more emotional than materialistic. As you would expect, The Man (3:13) shows Gantt praising Warren and Marcil. The Style (3:36) brings in a few folks from behind the scenes. We get to hear from Warren, producer Bailey Williams, cinematographer Roger Chingirian, editor Zack Arnold and costume designer Maria Lorenzana. The Vision (3:19) rounds things out as Warren discusses the challenge of adapting webisodes into a feature-length film. The disc closes with Previews for additional films.
Considering the fact that The Bannen Way was constructed from 16 short webisodes, it doesn't feel as disjointed as I thought it would. With that said, it still doesn't feel like a proper film. Its internal rhythm is rushed and repetitive. The abrupt and inconsistent climax also suggests that the substance of the film was clearly an afterthought compared to its style. With that said, director Jesse Warren has a kinetic visual flair and Mark Gantt turns in a charismatic performance as Bannen. While everyone involved clearly put in a great deal of work in order to produce a slick film, there just isn't enough here for me to whole-heartedly recommend it. Rent It.