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BAND OF ROBBERS (review)

Review by Elizabeth Weist
Produced by John Will, Rick Rosenthal,
Matt Ratner, Arun Kumar
Written by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee
Based upon the novels by Mark Twain 
Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee
Starring Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Hannibal Buress
Matthew Gray Gubler, Melissa Benoist, Stephen Lang
Daniel Edward Mora, Eric Christian Olsen, Beth Grant

From the description of Band of Robbers (A modern-day retelling of Mark Twain’s iconic “Adventures of” books” that reimagines Huck Finn and Tom Saywer as rebels looking to score a local treasure) you’d think that for fans of Twain, this would be a good idea: great characters, solid stories, the cultural history of America, but sadly, it isn’t.

 More to the point, Robbers is more of a love letter to the films of Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers than to the biting social commentary and witticisms that Twain is known and beloved for.

Which would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that Huck (Kyle Gallner) and Tom (Adam Nee), two of the most well-known American Literature characters, are relegated to playing parody ghosts of themselves who just so happen to be in an homage to filmmakers who have nothing to do with the film itself.

And I get it.

Having Huck getting out of jail and wanting to go on the straight-and-narrow redemptive path only to be seduced by Tom, a police officer who dreams of the big score, is almost a verbatim recounting of Anderson’s 1996 flick Bottle Rocket (only instead of jail, Luke Wilson’s Anthony leaves a mental hospital), a film that was obviously influential to the brothers Nee.

Hell, I don’t even have a problem with the idea of superimposing Twain into Anderson’s plot, but let’s at least be honest about it.

Throwing Tom and Huck and their friends in the mix, including Becky Thatcher (Benoist), Ben Rogers (Buress), Joe Harper (Gubler), Jorge Jiminez (an undocumented worker who is a stand-in for Slave Jim played by Mora) and Injun Joe (Lang) who is a cultural appropriator á la Rachel Dolezal), seems more of a “Hey, look at what I did, aren’t I cool?” move rather than an honest attempt to modernize historical literary characters.

Once the film moves into the more action oriented part of the story (where “the gang” goes for “the score”) the thematic tone shuffles into its Raising Arizona tempo throwing in quirky humor that doesn’t quite pay off, nor match the first half of the film. Again, I understand what the filmmakers were going for; unfortunately the payoff wasn’t well executed or needed in order to make the story interesting.

So is Band of Robbers a horrible film?

No, not for a certain audience, and the reason is simply this: It will be appreciated by those who are unfamiliar with the characters (something that is more probable now than when I was reading about them in school seeing as how often Twain is banned) and for whom the names Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are nothing more than a footnote in pop culture. For that audience, Robbers will be enjoyable.

For those who love them it will feel that their inclusion in the film is nothing more than a publicity move and one that fails to actualize what it is/was about Huck and Tom that made the characters so important to their fans and to literature.

If you are the type of person who can get past the glaring bastardization of the plot and characters, Band of Robbers will be an easily digestible 95 minutes that you won’t remember much of after it ends, and if you aren’t, well, you might as well go ahead and watch Bottle Rocket and Raising Arizona, they are certainly much more entertaining.

 Band of Robbers is now playing in theaters and On Demand

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