Can a pair of goofy grifters, wringing out a living wage by stealing cars at funerals, really make good parents? And what’s with the kid’s obsession with soda pop? Brian Crano’s third feature film, “A Bag of Hammers,” explores these deep questions with a charming cast of good for nothings looking to do right.
Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) are best of friends and always have been. They live together and work together, dressing up as valets and toting their fake sign around LA from one end of the city to the other to find cars to steal. Sometimes they do it at restaurants but it’s seemingly easier to rip people off when they’re parking at a cemetery for a funeral. One day a young mother, Lynette (Carrie Preston), and her son Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury) move in to their rental house, only for Ben’s sister Mel (Rebecca Hall) to discover that Kelsey is living in filth and that Lynette doesn’t seem to care about her kid. After finally falling to Kelsey’s constant barrage of trying to give everyone a soda, his only joy in life, Mel calls child services and it’s finally up to the slackers to decide if they’re the family for Kelsey or not.
Let’s face it, this all sounds like the same festival ilk that could go either way based on description alone. But where “A Bag of Hammers” has a glimmer of hope is in its inspired casting. Looking back on Crano’s filmography it’s clear he’s friends with several cast members, including Jake Sandvig (“Easy A”), Amanda Seyfried (“Big Love”), and Rebecca Hall (“The Town”), who have all starred in his first two films. They all seem to be very comfortable in their roles here and Ritter (“The Event”) and Sandvig have a nearly brother like chemistry that belies a friendship between their characters that has been developed for years. Nearly completing each other’s sentences and acting out, like the man children they are, it’s easy to find them charming, if those are the types of characters that float your boats (I thought they were hilarious). And Hall is no slouch either, playing alongside them, providing a casual charm every time she slyly smiles at their antics or has to dance for them in her waffle house hat (even adorned with a waffle on it!). If the kid everyone is making a brouhaha about wasn’t likeable then it’d be easy to dismiss him and not even care if he’s sent off to a home, but there’s a tear jerking moment in “A Bag of Hammers” from Chandler Canterbury that will tug at any dark heartstring. And if you’ve ever watched “True Blood” you’ll instantly recognize Carrie Preston who plays Arlene the waitress. While her character here is despicable, that southern drawl of hers works as a nice façade to her initial introduction.
The largest complaint here is that while the movie is quite cute and the characters are strong, it’s highly predictable. This is a pure three act drama, hitting on all the ups and downs one would expect. With just a basic description it’s easy to imagine where Crano is going to take you and unfortunately there’s little in the way of surprises here. But sometimes that’s not really a bad thing and there is always room for a winner. When movie goers are under a constant barrage of indie films looking to tell a heartwarming story that’s been told a hundred times before, it’s nice to find one that just works.