“Low Tide” is a “Bling Ring” variation of the well-worn “friends find treasure and turn on each other” story trope, one with just enough suspense, atmosphere and local color to come off.
Writer-director Kevin McMullin, making his first feature, leans on character “types” and familiar situations entirely too much. But leads Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson, as burgling brothers, and Shea Whigham as the local law give it just enough pop to overcome its shortcomings.
Alan (Johnson), Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri) and Red (Alex Neustaedter) are Jersey Shore teens who resent the “Bennies” who show up in their coastal town every summer season. How much? Enough to turn them into benefactors by motoring across the bay and robbing them when nobody’s home.
It’s about 1990 — Peak Bon Jovi — and they hunt for liquor, drugs and jewelry in their ransackings.
Smitty, their not-wholly-reliable “lookout,” busts his leg on one such foray. That’s when Alan decides to bring in his kid brother as a replacement.
Smitty is on the shifty and shady side. Red, the hotheaded son of a local developer, is the leader, a bully — violent. Alan and little brother Peter are just broke. Dad’s on a long haul, long-line fishing boat for the summer., Mom died years ago.
Jaeden Martell (“St. Vincent,” “Midnight Special”) plays Peter as sort of a variation of his character in “The Book of Henry.” He’s “the smart one,” into black and white horror movies and works on the docks, selling fish for the skippers there. He’s also “a Boy Scout,” literally and figuratively. He has no business getting mixed up in this.
That’s what the local cop (Whigham) says when Alan is caught on their very next outing. Red’s a sociopath in the making, Alan is at a crossroads in his “comic book…origin story.” But Peter? He’s an innocent, maybe with a future.
Nobody’s talking to the cops. Or maybe everybody is. And that last heist, which turned up some choice loot at a dead ship’s captain’s remote cabin, has everybody suspecting everybody else of betrayal.
Only Peter and Alan know the exact contents of the haul, and only Peter knows where he buried it.
Kristine Froseth plays Mary, the pretty “Benny” Alan so wants to impress that he starts flashing money around.
Mike Hodge plays the pawn broker, the one who lectures the kids on what is and isn’t “gold,” and the one who (pre-eBay) has no idea what gold Spanish Doubloons are actually worth, then or now.
It’s also eye-rolling that the “smart kid” asserts that vintage coin stashes are “always worth more together, as a collection.” Seriously, screenwriters, a little homework renders your world more real.
Would a 50ish police sergeant in 1990 use “comic book origin stories” as an analogy to an impressionable teen? Nope. Fanboy screenwriters would.
But there’s much more sharp dialogue than clunky, with the boys announcing their “code” of who they’ll rob, and who they won’t — “No locals!”
And the cop’s lecture gets good the moment he drops his whole “origin story” analogy. “Bad guys never think they’re bad. They’ve got their reasons, and they do one thing which leads to two things which leads to a million.”
“Low Tide” — on DirectTV Sept. 5, in theaters Oct 4 — is on its surest ground when it deals with the real (not melodramatic) world of its day, sons of fishermen in a “Mystic Pizza/Breaking Away” town bonding over their contempt for wealthy vacationers, making idiots of themselves over girls on the boardwalk.
“She’s a countdown girl. Looks great from far away, 10. Then as she gets closer, 9, 8, 7…”
The cast is uniformly fine, with Neustaedter (of TV’s “The Colony”) throwing an evil Heath Ledger vibe and young Zolghadri born to play a prison “snitch.”
McMullin doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, and “types” and “tropes” only take “Low Tide” so far. But this one delivers just enough suspense, menace, violence and betrayal to never leave us high and dry.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and teen drug use
Cast: Jaeden Martell, Keean Johnson, Shea Whigham, Kristine Froseth, Mike Hodge, Daniel Zolghadri and Alex Neustaedter
Credits: Written and directed by Kevin McMullin. An A24/DirectTV release.
Running time: 1:26