“Band of Robbers” is more a clever conceit than a satisfying, coherent and involving crime comedy. But what a conceit!
It’s a modern resetting of Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” with characters living out their adulthood in the patterns Twain established for their youth way back in 19th century St. Petersburg (Hannibal) Missouri.
So, Huck Finn (Kyle Gallner) is fresh out of prison, having taken the rap, one more time, for dreaming/scheming Tom (co-writer/director Adam Nee).
Huck wants to go straight, grow up, “have a family…a life.”
Tom? He’s the same scamp at 30 he was at 13. He’s a cop, now, suffering under the thumb of brother Sid (Eric Christian Olsen), but always with an eye on that buried pirate’s treasure that got him and Huck into so much trouble in their youth.
Tom rounds up their pals (comic Hannibal Burress, among them) and resolves to start a “Band of Robbers,” a gang of “merry men” just like Robin Hood. He pitches a “blood oath,” but the guys are too squeamish. He has to be satisfied with having his own mob. What’s it called and who’s in it?
“It’s on a need-to-know basis. And nobody needs to know.”
Tom’s a bit of a cunning dope. As always. He’s got a cunning plan, robbing a pawn shop where Injun Joe may have stashed something that will lead to them to the treasure. Tom the cop will get his gang to knock over the pawn shop and keep them out of the reach of Injun Joe. Who isn’t “real.” Or a “real Injun.”
“That’s kinda racist!”
“How is it racist to want to be MORE like another race?” Injun Joe himself (Stephen Lang) and others want to know, a funny running gag.
Tom has to throw his new partner, Officer Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist) off the scent, get his gang to show up on time and follow the plan, and track down the treasure that has consumed his dreams since before Mark Twain’s hair changed color.
“Band of Robbers” is a film of little flourishes that work better than the story they’re adorning. Everybody wondering why “Injun Joe” wants to be a Native American, clumsy gang members missing appointments, forgetting their panty-hose disguises (plastic grocery bags will have to do), clumsy attempts at Spanglish (they’ll pass themselves off as Mexicans during the heist).
A police interrogation gets off track when we’re asked to wonder how a mermaid might ride a snake.
Nee, as Sawyer, has most of the hilarious lines, but doesn’t have a comic’s timing or a film star’s camera charisma. His awkward babbling to Becky Thatcher almost sings, but doesn’t. Nothing else comes as close to working.
But you have to hand it to the Nee brothers (Aaron is the other co-writer/director) for trying. In an age when every film student and filmmaker wannabe is grasping at the low-hanging fruit of horror, they’ve taken a shot at a classic. And missed. No dishonor in that.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with bloody violence, profanity
Cast: Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Melissa Benoist, Hannibal Burress, Stephen Lang
Credits: Written and directed by Aaron Nee, Adam Nee, based on Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” A Gravitas release.
Running time: 1:33