Crime and horror. Those are the two genres independent filmmakers are most interested in making. While some truly original films come along—“Reservoir Dogs” and “Evil Dead,” to name but two—most prove too derivative and lack inspiration. A good crime film, or horror film for that matter, works strongest when we’re given tweaked archetypes and stories that are engaging and entertaining, as opposed to stylish and clever—see: “Snatch” or “The Usual Suspects.” Scott’s Smith “Charlie the Ox” manages to fall into the latter, creating a wholly entertaining film experience.
Charlie is the Ed Wood of safecrackers. A small time crook with big times dreams, he is, in reality, a criminal with little talent. He’s a dreamer who envisions crawling out of his doldrums and living on the spoils of his crimes. But no one takes him seriously. His friends ridicule him, and those in the crime business who know of him know him to be a screw-up. He’s built his reputation on attempting to crack safes but never finishing the job. Interfering with other safecrackers and crime bosses, he’s proven more a nuisance than a bona fide criminal.
When some big time crime bosses plan to pull a heist at a bank, they arranged a meeting between Charlie and an alcoholic out of work actor who convinces him that he’s being let in on the heist. But he soon learns that the crime bosses duped him so he doesn’t interfere with the heist. Then, feeling double-crossed, he sets out to enact revenge on the crime lord and claim what’s his: the money promised him when he was duped.
In “Charlie the Ox,” writer/director Scott Smith has written an engaging, intricately layered crime story that manages to remain playfully while taking itself seriously. It’s a fun and funny movie reminiscent of early Cohen brothers films, filled with quirky characters and entertaining, and unexpected, twists and turns.
While the film excels with a smart and funny script, it fails on one major level: the acting. Filled with amateurs and novices, the film never rises above poor acting. Every actor in the film suffer from lack of charisma and an ability to step outside his or her element, and as a result the performances are two dimensional, and interactions lack chemistry.
What’s most interesting about the film is that it starts out lacking imagination; this reviewer felt bored and wholly uninterested throughout the entire first act, but when Charlie learns that he’s been duped and decides to turn the tables, the film finds its footing and never ceases to amaze or entertain.