A thirtysomething Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer continue their mischievous antics into adulthood in sibling filmmakers Aaron and Adam Nee’s loving, modern-day update of the classic Mark Twain stories. An eccentric comedy likely to be best enjoyed by those steeped in the original novels, Band of Robbers doesn’t quite spin its imaginative conceit into comic gold, but it offers some minor pleasures along the way.
As the story begins, Huck (Kyle Gallner) has just been let out of prison after committing a minor crime. He reconnects with his old pal, Tom (co-writer and director Adam Nee), now a morally compromised cop who eventually pairs off with, you guessed it, Becky (Melissa Benoist of CBS’ Supergirl).
Tom proposes that he and Huck put together a “band of robbers” for a heist at a local pawn shop that he believes is harboring a fortune in gold. They round up the old gang, including Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress), Tommy Barnes (Johnny Pemberton) and Joe Harper (Matthew Gray Gubler).
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Revealing a generous appreciation of their source material, the Nee brothers have freely borrowed from the two books, often cleverly modernizing the characters and situations. The slave, Jim, is here transformed into an illegal immigrant, Jorge (Daniel Edward Mora,) and the villainous Injun Joe (Stephen Lang), while he retains the name, is now a white man who imagines himself to be a Native American.
“I guess he identifies with the culture and aesthetic,” a gang member comments in one of the film’s funnier running gags.
At times the filmmakers arguably hew a little too close to their inspiration. The pic opens with a quote by Twain; it’s divided into literary-style chapters and narrated by Huck; and a good chunk of the dialogue is taken from the original books. The results occasionally border on being precious, with the humor being more effective in the quieter, quirkier moments.
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More problematically, the lead performers lack the necessary charm and charisma to make us fully engaged in their characters’ adventures. Fortunately, the supporting players take up the slack, especially Lang, both funny and frightening as Injun Joe; Buress, employing his deadpan delivery to hilarious if underused effect; and Benoist, highly appealing even if her Becky is a bit too ditzy.
To fully appreciate the extent of the affectionate homage being paid, it wouldn’t hurt to reread both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn … or at least the CliffsNotes.
Production: Torn Sky Entertainment, White Water Films
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress, Melissa Benoist, Daniel Mora, Eric Christian Olsen, Stephen Lang
Directors-screenwriters-editors: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
Producers: John Will, Rick Rosenthal, Matt Ratner, Arun Kumar
Executive producers: Evan Buxbaum, Matthew Gray Gubler, Tims Johnson, Bert Kern, Noah Lang, John Winn Miller, Margo Miller, Nick Morton, Nalit Patel, Aaron J. Wiederspahn
Director of photography: Noah Rosenthal
Production designer: Rodrigo Cabral
Costume designer: Autumn Steed
Composer: Joel P. West
Casting: John McAlary
Not rated, 95 minutes