Band of Robbers, 2016.
Written and Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee.
Starring Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Melissa Benoist, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress, Daniel Edward Mora, Eric Christian Olsen, Johnny Pemberton, Beth Grant, Cooper Huckabee, and Stephen Lang.
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are grown men, still searching for the hidden treasure that has eluded them since childhood.
Band of Robbers is an intriguing film right off the bat. How many movies in this generation are getting made about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, let alone movies that put a creative spin on the highly respected works of Mark Twain? The answer is probably very few, or none at all, so when a description for a movie on-demand comes up detailing a comic caper showcasing young adult versions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer attempting to pull off some Robin Hood shenanigans, it’s hard not to resist the temptation to throw a rental at it.
The result is a satisfying, if occasionally shaky, mash-up of screwball comedy and suspenseful danger. Of course, the proceedings are also littered with references to the writings of Mark Twain, although what’s really important is that you don’t have to be knowledgeable on the stories to come away entertained by Band of Robbers. Those that still have all of the tales and literary lessons in the back of their brain will most likely find a 4-star film inside of a 3-star film, while everyone else will just get swept away on a mostly lighthearted, adventurous ride in modern times.
At the center of it all is an endearing performance from Adam Nee (who is also on board as a writer and director) portraying Tom Sawyer as a cop with good intentions, that simply can’t put aside his ambition to achieve greater things, and essentially be a hero that will go down in history as a celebrity. He is also infatuated with his newly assigned partner Becky Thatcher (Supergirl‘s Melissa Benoist), and to be honest, it’s really hilarious watching him spin lies and half-truths to give the illusion to her that he is someone highly important doing top-secret work. There’s a combination of traits in the character; genius pirate, caring friend, idiot with bad ideas, and so on and so forth that make Sawyer come alive. Ultimately, Tom Sawyer is someone we can root for.
Equally interesting is Huckleberry Finn (played by Kyle Gallner), who has just gotten out of jail (the crime is a small one and doesn’t hinder his likability) and is trying to plant his feet firmly on a path towards more positive life goals, such as staying out of prison to start a family and have children. Naturally, this doesn’t work out too well, as he becomes roped into the titular Band of Robbers, which also consists of a number of funny comedic actors.
When Band of Robbers is successful, it is usually due to the fact that it isn’t taking itself too seriously, but rather is being played out as man-children going on adventures filled with childlike wonder. A number of choices the characters make barely make sense, but it’s easy to succumb to the well-written humorous dialogue, throwaway references to Mark Twain, and camaraderie the group share. There’s also an upbeat, old-timey Western reminiscent soundtrack placed here. Yes, it’s anachronistic, but it fits.
Around the halfway mark however, Band of Robbers starts ditching that comedic edge once the situation becomes more life-threatening. A nasty villain is introduced, lives are placed into danger, characters are physically harmed in rather violent ways, and essentially, everything about the movie you were enjoying morphs into some other monster that is far less fun. Band of Robbers slowly but surely shifts into a confused mess that leaves you yearning for that lighthearted approach that was working so well in the first half.
Eventually, it sort of does return, but the film’s final chapter (the movie is actually broken up into chapters, similar to a novel or Quentin Tarantino film) decides to slap together one last plan for the group that has its heart in the right place for thematic context, but is heavily poorly constructed. The final 45 minutes of Band of Robbers are desperately in need of a rewrite. There are a lot of good ideas, but along the way everything just unravels and falls apart.
The filmmakers seem to be operating under an extraordinary sense of ambition that, over time, gets the best of their intentions. Band of Robbers certainly has a fascinating premise with copious amounts of ideas on what to do with its plot and characters, but alas, there are probably too many ideas. One minute it’s a breezy comedy sailing along with laughter, and then before you know it you’re fearing for the lives of characters without an effective tonal shift. Still, you don’t see too many chances like this being taken, so based on creativity alone (along with some great performances), the movie is worth checking out.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★