Flypaper: Sundance Review

Patrick Dempsey - Fly Paper - Screen Grab - 2011
Courtesy of the Sundance Institute
Although tempting enough to initially attract audiences, this caper comedy may have trouble getting them to stick around, despite a starry cast.

"The Hangover" co-writers don’t strike again with this breathless script.

PARK CITY — Rob Minkoff’s first independent production following a string of successful family-oriented studio pictures, heist comedy Flypaper represents a favorable transition, although it’s not without a few speed bumps along the way. Long in gestation project from The Hangover co-writers Scott Moore and Jon Lucas has moments of hilarity, but overall the script evinces neither the inspired comedic mayhem nor the intricately disciplined structure of 2009’s smash hit.

The combination of Minkoff’s solid track record, the A-list comedy writers and stars Patrick Dempsey and Ashley Judd will assure a favorable opening, but if the Sundance world premiere (belatedly added to the festival lineup) was any indication, the R-rated material and mixed audience response may combine to dampen box office after initial playdates.

A casual trip to the bank at closing time proves unlucky for hottie math whiz Tripp (Dempsey), first when his casual flirtation with very much engaged teller Kaitlin (Judd) provokes a cool response and then when he’s caught in the middle of a double heist by two different crews. Professionals Darrien (Mekhi Phifer), Gates (Matt Ryan) and Weinstein (John Ventimiglia) break in with automatic weapons drawn, only to encounter amateurs Peanut Butter (Tim Blake Nelson) and Jelly (Pruitt Taylor Vince), intent on blowing open the lobby ATMs for quick cash.

A brief shootout ensues, prompting Tripp to leap over the counter, protectively tackling Kaitlin. During the Mexican standoff that follows, Tripp impulsively intervenes and negotiates a deal: the pros will execute their original plan to crack the vault while good ’ol boys Peanut Butter and Jelly can eviscerate the ATMs with their plastic explosives.

With the bank locked down overnight by the internal security system, the robbers lock Tripp and the employees, led by manager Gordon (Jeffrey Tambor), into the break room. Off his meds and feeling totally OCD, Trip immediately begins looking for a way out, giving the others nervous fits in response to Gates’ threat to kill them all if there’s any attempt to escape.

Things start getting really weird after Weinstein and the bank’s computer administrator, who’s already admitted to taking a payoff in return for providing critical security information, fatally shoot one another. Then Darrien’s welding rig blows up, killing him too. Faced with flying solo if he wants to break into the vault, Gates reluctantly teams up with Peanut Butter and Jelly so he can use their explosives.

Back in the break room, Tripp is trying to figure out how the two heist teams happened to hit the bank at the same time. Bouncing theories off Kaitlin only increases her frustration with him, so he goes off sleuthing around the building by crawling through ceiling airducts and returns with a bizarre theory. Trip suspects that the simultaneous robberies are a cover plan for a single criminal mastermind to bring his all outstanding liabilities together in one location so he can kill them off. The money in the vault is just flypaper, he concludes – bait to lure them to the bank.

Refocused on identifying the ruthless killer among them, the surviving robbers and civilians all begin to suspect one another, with Tripp the main target of their distrust. By now, however, Tripp and Kaitlin have formed an alliance and set the killer up to expose himself, if they can manage not to get shot first.  

Minkoff smoothly choreographs the rapid-fire action sequences and adeptly integrates the movie’s intersecting plotlines, although directing the sprawling cast comes off less effectively. Jokey line readings and forced humor draw too much attention to many of the performances, although Nelson and Vince consistently deliver with their absurdly incompetent Peanut Butter and Jelly routine.

Given a bit of breathing room in the breathless script, Dempsey and Judd might have been able to develop some convincing chemistry, but relationship dynamics get squeezed out by relentless plotting. Dempsey endows Tripp with a curious combination of nerdiness and charm that’s endearing without being totally engaging. Judd gives her best, but Kaitlin never comes across as a fully formed character, serving primarily as a foil for Tripp.

Starting from a clever premise of colliding bank robberies, the writers cram too many characters and a surfeit of plotting into the 85-minute running time, which makes the movie seemed rushed, perhaps another reason for the underwhelming sense of attraction between Dempsey and Judd. Plot twists quickly pile up on one another during the final reel with an improbability that makes comparisons to 1985’s Clue seem inevitable.

Production values overall are top-quality, with cinematographer Steven Poster providing crisp visuals and Tom Finan’s editing ably underpinning the film’s frantic pace.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres
Production companies: A Safran Company / Foresight Unlimited Production
Cast: Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake Nelson, Mekhi Phifer, Matt Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor, John Ventimiglia, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Curtis Armstrong, Adrian Martinez, Natalia Safran, Octavia Spencer
Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenwriters: Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Producers: Mark Damon, Peter Safran, Patrick Dempsey, Moshe Diamant
Executive producers: Joanne Burstein, Tamara Stuparich de la Barra, Gregory Walker, Gudrun Giddings, Bobby Ranghelov, Tilo Seiffert, Marcus Schoefer, Christian Arnold-Beutel, Scott Moore, Jon Lucas
Director of photography: Steven Poster
Production designer: Alec Hammond
Music: John Swihart
Costume designer: Mona May
Editor: Tom Finan
Sales: UTA Independent Film Group
No rating, 85 minutes