REVIEW: Bromantically Whimsical A Bag of Hammers Gets By on Scruffy Sweetness

Movieline Score:

What if The Sting's Henry Gondorff and Johnny Hooker could be your surrogate parents? And what if they were also SoCal slackers? That seems to be the thought at the center of Brian Crano's directorial debut, an uneven but appealing dramedy about two car thieves and petty con-artists who end up taking charge of an abandoned 12-year-old boy. It's a film that should be appallingly twee, but more often than not is actually scruffy and sweet, thanks to a nicely underplayed turn by Chandler Canterbury as the kid, Kelsey, and the chemistry between Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig (who co-wrote the film with Crano) as hipster grifters Ben and Alan.

The pair are incredibly unconvincing as criminals, which is partly the idea -- they dress up in hideous bow-tied uniforms and stand outside funerals with a notice offering complementary valet parking. It works because they look like schmucks -- why would anyone wear formal shorts and stand outside in the sun for hours if they weren't getting paid to do so? When someone bites, they take his or her car, throw their sign in the back and drive straight to a shady garage run by Marty (Todd Louiso), the least threatening stolen vehicle fence imaginable. This low-key illegal operation is barely sketched out -- wouldn't someone eventually spread news of this scheme? -- and ends up being more symbolic of the man-child refuge the two have created for themselves.

Ben and Alan live in the guest quarters in the backyard of a larger house they rent out to tenants; they have cookouts on the porch, on which they also like to sit in fancy bathrobes; and they pay regular visits to Alan's sister Mel (Rebecca Hall), who works at a chain diner that requires employees to do a dance to welcome their customers, and who's in school and disapproves of their illicit moneymaking schemes. It's hard to say whether A Bag of Hammers is deliberately stylized or simply so lo-fi it inadvertently comes across that way, but the simplicity of its elements works. (It resembles last year's Bellflower in that it creates a sense of an enclosed alt Los Angeles universe by stripping away all the mundane details and consequences.) Ben and Alan have created a loafer's Neverland in their Burbank back house, an easy life that's far from the troubled childhoods they mention in passing. They don't have any further plans to expand their criminal enterprises -- when presented with a gun by Marty, Ben looks shocked. And they have no desire or motivation to change, until Kelsey comes into their lives.

Kelsey and his mother Lynette (True Blood's Carrie Preston) are the front house's current tenants, driven, according to Lynette, from their home in Louisiana by Katrina. Kelsey's a serious kid, but his mother seems scattered and frazzled. While Ben and Alan are idly talking about who would win in a fight (the Ultimate Warrior being the answer to all scenarios) or accidentally stealing the car of Ben's ex girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) while leading charmed lives ("What if our luck runs out?" one asks, to which the other replies "Our con luck or our regular person luck?"), Lynette goes from job interview to job interview. In her desperation for cash, she completely neglects her son -- and things get worse with child services and a concerned teacher (Gabriel Macht) lurking in the wings.

The shift between quirky comedy and emotionally scarred drama doesn't really work out, but A Bag of Hammers remains fairly light despite some serious developments threatening to encroach on the boys' bubble. When Kelsey ends up in their care, Alan is ready to commit to raising him (despite being utterly unprepared to care for a child), while Ben is alarmed -- "We can't even keep fish!" -- and Mel is the voice of reason, a voice pointing out that they're being ridiculous. A Bag of Hammers' mistrust of systems and authority figures -- who tend to either be abusive or too caught up in their own problems to pay attention -- seems strange given the bromantic whimsy with which its main characters have chosen to live their lives, like eternal kids whose parents are away. But Lynette's dilemma comes across as genuinely distressed and free of bathos, conveying the despair of running up against an unmovable wall again and again.

The title comes from the name Ben has for the difficulties life hands you -- you're burdened with "a bag of hammers" representing the poverty in which you grew up, or the cancer that claims your loved ones, or the accident in which your brother died, or the divorce that splits up your family. "The thing is what you do with these hammers," Ben explains. As metaphors go, it doesn't make much sense -- isn't the saying "a box of hammers," and doesn't it refer to someone's idiocy? -- but then, neither does the world in which the movie takes place. That it works as well as it does is a pleasing accident.

Follow Alison Willmore on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.


  • Thanks in support of sharing such a pleasant thinking, piece of writing is pleasant, thats why i have read it completely

  • Forward of course is futuristic and future remained in constant jeopardy.
    The main character Kirito is plenty likable and as the lead gets the most screen time in the entire anime.
    Mages and Clerics should really not be looked to for a tanking role.

  • fantastic points altogether, you simply won a logo new
    reader. What could you suggest about your post that you made some days in the
    past? Any certain?

  • s feet and laugh lines. Learning self-defense is
    more than a cool throw or powerful kick, the mindset
    to stay aware and understand the world around you
    provides perspective. Another simple trick is a follow through kick or punch, where rather than focusing your power on the target you intend to it,
    focus it at a point beyond your target.

  • ahmad dixon says:

    It's a pity you don't have a donate button! I'd certainly donate to this excellent blog!
    I guess for now i'll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google
    account. I look forward to fresh updates and will share this
    blog with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  • The man died and the woman was taken to the hospital with serious injuries to her face and legs. The man was identified late Friday morning. Please note: All bracelets have been distributed. None of these locations has any more inventory of bracelets. Take care of your physical health. Take care of your mental health.
    cheap jordan shoes

  • feeble grind says:

    Hi there, after reading this amazing paragraph i am too glad to share my experience here
    with colleagues.

  • This is my first time pay a visit at here and i am genuinely happy to read everthing at single place.

  • I've been exploring for a little bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts
    on this sort of space . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this site.
    Reading this info So i'm satisfied to convey that I've a very good uncanny feeling
    I found out exactly what I needed. I such a lot unquestionably will make sure to do not
    omit this website and provides it a look regularly.

  • banning jail says:

    Thanks for some other excellent article. The place else may just anybody get that type of info in such an ideal means of
    writing? I've a presentation next week, and I'm on the look for such info.

  • Wonderful items from you, man. I've be mindful your stuff prior to and you're simply extremely wonderful.
    I really like what you've bought right here, really like what you are
    saying and the way in which by which you are saying it.
    You are making it enjoyable and you continue to take care
    of to keep it sensible. I cant wait to learn far more from you.
    This is actually a terrific website.

  • aqua nc says:

    Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We
    are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.

    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a extraordinary job!

  • Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite justification appeared to be on the net the easiest thing to be aware of.

    I say to you, I certainly get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly don't know about.
    You managed to hit the nail upon the top and also defined out the whole thing without having
    side effect , people could take a signal. Will likely be back to get more.


  • French Language is one of the languages that people would love to learn. me is meant for hair removal
    from the body so avoid using it for facial hair.
    Think about a song that you find particularly catchy,
    the catchiest part will have a simple and easy to repeat set of sounds, and this is what makes them so catchy.

Post a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s