Watching the trailer for American Heist, you’d be forgiven for thinking director Sarik Andreasyan might deliver a fast paced action thriller along the lines of The Heat and The Town. The premise is solid enough, there looks to be some good action sequences and the brotherly bond could provide a meaningful emotional angle. Unfortunately, instead we get a film as generic as its title, one that never quite understands what it’s trying to do; suffering from poor pacing, barely passable dialogue and a plot so laden with clichés that it becomes a near chore to watch.
American Heist revolves around two brothers, James (Hayden Christensen); the rehabilitated ex con turned mechanic and older brother Frankie (Adrian Brody); who after a being released from a ten year prison stretch becomes involved in a dubious bank roll heist with old prison buddy tough guy Ray (Tory Kittles). Needing younger brother James’s quite unbelievable set of skills (ranging from getaway driver, bomb maker and Iraq veteran), the generic roided out bank robbers blackmail James into commitment with the use of long lost sweetheart Emily (Jordana Brewster).
While American Heist attempts to focus on building up a meaningful relationship between the two brothers during the first hour of the movie (yes the heist only takes place in the last quarter), it never really succeeds. Plagued by terribly clichéd writing and some seriously out of place dialogue most scenes end up ringing false. The endless tropes like “you and me against the world” and “you turned the world against me” make eyes roll, while the generic ‘I turned to crime to take care of you’ older brother reasoning doesn’t ever quite match up with the blackmail plot. In one absurd moment, Frankie breaks down weeping about his struggles in prison and out of absolutely nowhere mentions being raped by a tube of toothpaste. How this was ever meant to be taken seriously during such an emotional scene is beyond me, but this is just one example of a script that often loses its focus.
The general quality of the film is really set from the start, when we see Adrian Brody bopping out of prison in a laughable portrayal of a swaggering street time thug. For an A list actor, it’s just not a role that works for him, becoming only halfway believable by the end. You have to feel sorry for Hayden Christensen who once again finds himself in a bland role where I am unable to tell if he’s actually a good actor or not.
Other characters in the film are just as flawed. Love interest Emily who is also coincidentally a police dispatcher, is made to clearly understand in a multitude of scenes James is involved in crime, but somehow ignores it all to pick up where the two apparently left off, which is never really made clear, apart from one obligatory rain soaked kiss. A monologue made by tough guy Ray (apparently also a well versed Marxist scholar) involving ‘banks are the true evil in society’ comes across as entirely unnecessary on top of James’s rejected small business loan earlier on. It’s one thing to just be a group of thugs after money, it’s another entirely to try and paint them as Marxist extremists.
It doesn’t often happen, but I truly struggled to find enjoyable aspects of this film. About the most entertaining parts are some of the comedic dialogue along with the aforementioned toothpaste scenario. A music score involving original tracks by Akon, while good in their own right, in many ways fail to match up with the attempted tone. The conclusive big heist itself is riddled with serious logic holes that Youtube channel Cinema Sins would have a field day with, and although there are some good action scenes , such as one chase scene ending in a blood sprayed wedding, the overall pacing issues remove any of the real intensity.
All in all, with all the issues that persist throughout American Heist, it comes to mind that its true joy perhaps, lies not in its good qualities, but in mocking its shortcomings with a friend.