The first sign of danger in ‘American Heist’ is the title, which is so generic it feels as though it was spit out of a computer program designed to predict future VOD failures. As soon as the movie starts, it’s clear that same computer program probably wrote the script and cast the actors as well. The movie is so dull and takes so many easy routes to get to an obvious conclusion, it could easily have been a parody spoof with only slightly more over-the-top performances from the actors.
Things kick off with a helicopter shot flying towards an urban landscape as a hip-hop track blares on the soundtrack. This opening really should be banned from movies at this point, but in this case it at least sets expectations reasonably low. We’re introduced to Hayden Christensen (whose presence is any movie is always a sign of mediocrity) as a struggling auto mechanic with a checkered past who wants nothing to do with crime. He has an ex-girlfriend (Jordana Brewster) who works for the police, and that flame is just about to reignite. Enter Adrien Brody as Christensen’s requisite “wrong side of the tracks” brother. He just got out of prison and has a tattoo of Frank Sinatra’s mugshot on his arm (yes, really), so you know he’s trouble.
Wouldn’t you know it? Brody wants to drag Christensen back into a life of crime. He has plans for a heist that could set the two bros (their term, not mine) up for life. Within 24 hours, Christensen is involved in an accidental murder that forces him into the heist against his own interests. The bros’ partners are two African American gentlemen who do nothing but snarl and swear. It would be unfair to name the actors because the racist stereotypes they play are deeply embarrassing.
‘American Heist’ is a feature-length act of posturing by a collection of actors and filmmakers who have seen great crime movies before and think creating their own is merely a matter of collecting the clichés and playing them straight. It’s painful to hear lines of dialogue like, “Me and you against the world” and even more painful to see two actors who look so profoundly dissimilar try to pass as brothers because they share the same tattoos.
As usual, Christensen’s performance could have just as easily been captured by casting a block of wood. He mumbles and moans, yet somehow never manages to raise his emotional level above a monotone no matter how extreme the situation. I guess he takes the “less is more” approach very seriously. Brody, on the other hand, overacts enough for two – squealing, screaming and crying in desperate stabs for attention. By the time he commits fully to a monologue about being raped by a toothpaste container, you can’t help but avert your eyes from the screen out of embarrassment over how far the career of this once great actor has fallen. As for Brewster, she merely plays another woman who falls for a guy because he’s good at cars. She deserves better – like, for example, an actual character to play.
The film marks the English language debut of Armenian director Sarik Andreasyan. While he doesn’t appear to have any knack for storytelling or working with actors, he at least loves playing with the camera. The movie looks slick even if the New Orleans setting guaranteed pretty pictures before a single storyboard was drawn, and most of the striking shots were pulled straight out of either ‘Mean Streets’ or ‘Heat’. When the big heist arrives, the movie delivers plenty of explosions, gunshots and double-crossings to give the illusion of a climax. The trouble is that without a single endearing character, it’s impossible to get wrapped up in any of the action or drama. You’ll want all the characters to die, sucking away any and all possible opportunity for suspense or satisfaction before it arrives.
This is quite simply a terrible movie. There’s really nothing positive to be said about it. Perhaps viewers who have never seen a crime movie before will be wowed, but given that this is a genre outing produced to appeal to a built-in audience, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving the theater without feeling nauseous with disappointment.