‘American Heist’: Toronto Review

A boilerplate, borderline ludicrous B-movie with a decent sense of style

Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen play brothers-in-crime in this Toronto world premiere

Besides the fact that they have a terrible pair of matching tattoos, there’s not much in common between the two brothers who drive the plot of American Heist, a run-of-the-mill crime drama that toes the risibility line on several occasions, even if it’s better made than your typical straight-to-video movie. Indeed, it’s hard to see this first English-language feature from Armenian-born producer-director Sarik Andreasyan finding much traction on the big screen, although stars Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen could help push it into VOD/DVD markets looking for some easily sellable genre fare. Otherwise, this heist is pretty much a bust.

New Orleans is once again the setting for a predictable story (written by Raul Inglis, The Falling) that sees straightedge mechanic, Jimmy (Christensen), thrown into a dangerous robbery scheme at the hands of his ex-con brother, Frankie (Brody). With no choice but to go ahead with the plan, the two bros team up with a local tough guy, Ray (Tory Kittles), to take down a downtown bank, leading to an action-packed finale where bullets, bombs and plenty of bad logic are tossed in all directions.

But before that happens, the filmmakers attempt to build up a brooding family saga that’s as dubious as it is often hilarious. First off, nobody that young is named “Frankie” or “Jimmy” anymore. Second, you can’t have a scene with Brody using a weepy, high-pitched voice to describe how he was raped in prison with a tube of toothpaste, and not expect people to find that funny. Finally, you can’t imagine viewers will believe that Christensen’s character is not only an expert car thief and the best gearhead in town, but that he also did a tour of duty in Iraq where he learned how to master high-powered explosives – which of course will come in handy during the big job.

What’s even worse is that the heist itself is justified not because these guys are just a bunch of thugs, but because “the banking institution is more dangerous than the army” and needs to be stopped. The quote comes from Thomas Jefferson, or at least that’s what Ray – who’s apparently a Marxist history scholar when he’s not shooting people in the head – claims to the rest of the group.

This is probably the last movie that needed some sort of sociopolitical undercurrent, and the references to declined small business loans and [sigh] Hurricane Katrina will definitely fall on deaf ears – the deafness no doubt due to the barrage of machine gun fire and pyrotechnics in the final act. In the least, Andreasyan makes those closing scenes so over-the-top, they’re almost fun, including one moment where the robbers pass through a wedding party and spritz the whole thing with blood.

Otherwise, American Heist does have a sense of style, with DP Antonio Calvache (Little Children) capturing the decrepit Big Easy locations in starkly-lit, widescreen compositions that looked great at the film’s Toronto premiere. The music is also strong, especially original tracks by Aliaune “Akon” Thiam, who makes his screen debut playing a gangsta named “Sugar” with a thick gold necklace and three lines of dialogue.

Production company: Glacier Films
Cast: Adrien Brody, Hayden Christensen, Jordana Brewster, Tory Kittles, Aliaune “Akon” Thiam
Director: Sarik Andreasyan
Screenwriter: Raul Inglis
Producers: Tove Christensen, Sarik Andreasyan, Gevond Andreasyan, Goergy Malkov, Vladimir Poliakov
Executive producers: Adrien Brody, Hayden Christensen, JoJo Ryder, George Castrounis, Michael Wexler, Arcadiy Golubovich, Jack Nasser, Joseph Nasser, Aliaune “Akon” Thiam
Director of photography: Antonio Calvache
Production designer: James A. Gelarden
Costume designer: Liz Straub
Editors: Kirill Kozlov, Kiran Pallegada
Composers: Artashes Andreasyan, Alim Zairov, Roman Vishnevsky, Aliaune “Akon” Thiam
Sales agent: Paradigm (US), Voltage Pictures (International)

No rating, 94 minutes