Band of Robbers

(USA 2015)

Ever wonder what became of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn? Adam and Aaron Nee come up with an answer—in an updated setting—in Band of Robbers, a fresh, inspired, and downright cool take on Mark Twain’s classic characters.

After another stint in jail, Finn (Kyle Gallner) reunites with Sawyer (Adam Nee)—now a small town cop with questionable ethics, a distaste for his brother Sid (Eric Christian Olsen), and a serious Peter Pan complex—and their gang of odd ducks: Joe Harper (Matthew Gray Gubler), Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress), and Tommy Barnes (Johnny Pemberton). Egged on by Muff Porter (Cooper Huckabee), a tragic old coot who sits in a nasty chair in a nasty motel room, Sawyer hatches a half-baked plan to snaffle a local treasure from Injun Joe (Stephen Lang), who they suspect stashes it in a pawn shop run by Dobbins (Creed Bratton, who most will recognize from The Office). Things don’t pan out according to plan, of course, sending Sawyer and Finn on one more adventure.

Band of Robbers is a light and entertaining adventure movie. I detest the word ‘cute’ to describe a movie, but that’s exactly what it is—and that’s a good thing. The film is nicely shot and effectively uses color and quick action to keep the mood light even when what’s unfolding is the opposite. The references to Twain’s characters are a bonus, and transplanting them to the current millennium works really well without watering them down; the characters in the film are true to the originals. Sure, liberties are taken—the exact location is never disclosed. A treasure map shows an unidentified winding river, and the scenery vaguely suggests Missouri. However, license plates only say “Drive Safely” and shots of what appear to be California hills in the background (not to mention desert terrain) belie any whiff of the Midwest. I understand the film borrows heavily from Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket; having never seen it, though, I can’t comment. Regardless, I was so interested in the story that none of this stuff bothered me.

There’s no profound statement here; in fact, a warning in Twain’s own words appears at the outset of the film: “persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished.” If there’s a moral, it’s simply that everyone must eventually grow up—a sentiment apparent throughout the film. In the end, Band of Robbers is not the same story as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; but if nothing else, it’s a testament to the timelessness and durability of Twain’s characters. That’s enough for me.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

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