Movie Review: “Counterfeiters”

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“Counterfeiters” is an ambitious, abridged thriller about a hustler who figures out a DIY way of making funny money.

A short, low-budget affair, it’s more of a prospectus than a polished, finished feature. Think of it as a calling card designed to advertise its remake potential, with a bigger budget, “name” cast and a rewrite or two.

Most film actors figure out the need to “make your own breaks” at some point. So there’s no such thing as a “vanity project” in the movies. Ask Ed Burns. Even when you write and direct it, have characters call your character “hot” and play with your luxuriant locks like a model told to “work it” by her favorite photographer.

Bryce Hirschberg wrote, directed and stars as Bridger, Mr. lives-with-his-mom and fusses at the way she does his laundry.

He’s got his reasons. Mom has been sick, and then she tells him “My cancer came back.”

They’re broke, but desperation joins inspiration when Bridger brushes his hair aside and notices what happened to the bills in his pocket. That’s how he can round up cancer-fighting cash. He’ll print his own money.

The script cleverly shows this process in a short opening montage, and only explains it “six months later” as Bridger’s operation has taken on lots of friends, a reasonably careful counterfeit laundering (Hah!) operation and a Carver motor yacht where the deed is done.

But “loose lips sink ships,” as they used to say in WWII. And “Sound travels on water, man.” These guys are getting greedy and sloppy. The idea is wash one dollar bills and re-print them into twenties. Because while bartenders, drug dealers, people selling used cars, etc., will check a hundo, “nobody” holds $20 bills up to the light.

True story — one of the few counterfeiters to ever utterly elude the Secret Service followed the same rule, way back in the 1940s. What was he copying and putting out as “legal tender?” Nickels.

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Hirschberg squeezes a suspicious girlfriend, a flirtatious barmaid and a horny coke dealer into the mix as an old friend (Shawn Rolph) is added to the operation as “driver” of the boat.

Too many people know too much, and even the mastermind is prone to getting sloppy. It can’t last. It doesn’t.

“Counterfeiters” rarely builds up suspense, and Hirschberg the actor doesn’t register the panic that Bridger must be feeling as the walls close in. Decent sequences are followed with clumsy, amateurish ones — the worst stoned come-on scene in recent memory.

You may try to trip the viewer up with fake police stops and the like, defying expectations of this sort of movie’s formula. But there’s still the “I’m getting out after this” trope, the false promise of “I’m not gonna get caught.”

The chapter headings are cute, “Monopoly,” as in “We might have Monopoly money, but there’s no ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” “Jenga” (All comes tumbling down?). Are they really necessary in a 70 minute movie?

Which is why this feels more like a pitch for a longer, more polished remake. Maybe that first rewrite will work out some kinks, discard lines like “Those are some interesting words” and get this tale out of film festival purgatory.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drug abuse, sexual situations

Cast: Bryce Hirschberg, Shawn Rolph, Julie Simone, Bridget Avildsen, Annie Newton

Credits: Written and directed by Bryce Hirschberg. A Call It Pictures release.

Running time: 1:12

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