Ajourney of discovery is the driving force behind “12 Bucks.” This earnest tale of two brothers reunited on a cross-country road trip is drenched in cliches. Light on humor and insight, the low-budget indie has marginal theatrical prospects and should not expect more than modest response in video and cable exploitation.
Credit sequence sets up a scene of domestic violence in which two young boys witness their father physically abusing their mother. Tanner, the slightly older sibling, picks up a gun and fires it at the man. We see the boy led away by police, and a series of stills shows the progression to young offender. Brother Johnny is raised in a middle-class foster home and takes the straight path to college in L.A.
Story proper kicks in with the adult Tanner (Sean Graham) showing up at Johnny’s (Scott Waugh) frat house. It’s a decidedly edgy encounter after a 15 -year hiatus, with the jailbird awkwardly trying to persuade his brother to do him a favor by joining him at the Hollywood parole bureau. Johnny reluctantly agrees, but it’s only after they hit the road in Tanner’s vintage Lincoln convertible that he’s told the office is in Florida, not California. Digging into their pockets for gas money, the two young men come up with the grand total referred to in pic’s title.
It rather sounds like the intro for an elaborate gag. But the infrequent humor in the script, penned by leading actors Graham and Waugh, is contrived and obvious. What they really want to do is get on the road, learn some life lessons from characters along the way and confront, confront, confront in meaningful dialogue aimed at healing the wounds of the past.
In virtually every respect it’s a tiresome exercise. Director Wayne Isham has a leaden hand, stretching out scenes that seize up whenever one of the principals stops to utter a passage of self-realization. Script is rife with noble sentiments about good and evil and how life paths are determined by forces beyond our ken. The observations are regrettably trite, and the film’s closing revelation is an extremely low-voltage “shocker.”
Technically, “12 Bucks” has the look of something shot on the fly without seeming overly cheap or crude. Still, the filmmakers’ attempts to cheat California for other parts of the country are only fitfully successful.Leads Waugh and Graham are persuasive performers in need of better screenwriters than themselves. Pic’s myriad cameos don’t always work, particularly those involving familiar faces that seem out of place in the otherwise verite-style production.