Film Review: ‘Band of Robbers’

This clever updating of Mark Twain finds Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer involved in a comic caper.

Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures

Sibling filmmakers Adam and Aaron Nee (“The Last Romantic”) offer an appealing mash-up of quirky whimsy, caper-comedy suspense and wink-wink literary allusions in “Band of Robbers,” a modern-day twist on Mark Twain that reimagines Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as grown-up rascals who never outgrew their appetite for adventure. You don’t really have to be familiar with Twain’s classic novels to enjoy this slickly produced indie as light and likable entertainment. But if you recall the source material as something far more pleasurable than high-school homework, you’re all the more likely to appreciate how cleverly Adam and Aron have played fast and loose with the mythos of Huck and Tom. Theatrical exposure may be fleeting, but extended shelf life in other platforms is a distinct possibility.

In this retelling of Twain’s colorful narratives, Huck (Kyle Gallner) is newly released from prison after serving time for a minor crime, and determined to walk the straight and narrow under the watchful eye of the Widow Douglas (Beth Grant). But Tom (co-director and co-writer Adam Nee) is eager to save his longtime friend and occasional partner-in-crime from a life of dull and dutiful respectability.

Even though he’s a cop — and inconveniently partnered with a straight-arrow partner named Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist of TV’s “Supergirl”) — Tom still sees himself as a criminal mastermind, ever on the lookout for the big score that can finance his oversized dreams. His enthusiasm is so contagious that he manages to smooth-talk Huck, and two other old friends, into robbing a pawn shop where the safe is rumored to contain a local-legendary treasure. Not surprisingly, nothing goes according to plan.

The filmmakers cunningly reconstitute supporting characters from Twain’s novels, so that the slave Jim is now an undocumented worker named Jorge (Daniel Edward Mora), while the fearsome Injun Joe (Stephen Lang, continuing his impressive evolution into this generation’s Warren Oates) has become a psycho paleface who assumed Native American attire and nomenclature because heidentifies with the culture and aesthetic.”

But the echoing doesn’t end there. There are several scenes in which Adam Nee evinces the manic intensity of a young Christian Slater, while Hannibal Buress often seems to be mimicking the speech patterns of (no kidding) GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson while playing Tom and Huck’s buddy Ben Rogers. And the movie overall recalls the shaggy-dog crime comedy of Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” — an observation, by the way, that is intended as high praise.

There are a few jarring tonal shifts here and there, but nothing so upsetting as to diminish the good-vibes quotient. The performances are deft, the pacing is fleet, and the viewer is left with the agreeable impression that “Band of Robbers” is a promising work by filmmakers whose next one probably will be even better.

Film Review: ‘Band of Robbers’

Reviewed online, Houston, Jan. 14, 2016. Running time: 95 MIN.

  • Production: A Gravitas Ventures release of a Torn Sky Entertainment production in association with Whitewater Films, Tilted Windmill Productions, Lola’s Prods. and Blacklist Digital. Produced by John Will, Rick Rosenthal, Matt Ratner, Arun Kumar. Executive producers, Nick Morton, Bert Kern, John Miller, Margo Miller, Tims Johnson, Matthew Gray Gubler, Nalit Patel, Noah Lang, Evan Buxbaum. Co-producer, Zubi Mohammed.
  • Crew: Directed, written, edited by Adam Nee, Aaron Nee, based on the novels “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventure of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. Camera (color), Noah Rosenthal; music, Joel P. West; music supervisor, Rob Lowry; production designer, Rodrigo Cabral; art director, Allison Honeycutt; costume designer, Autumn Rae Steed; sound, William McGuigan; associate producers, Aaron J. Wiederspahn, Narbeh Tatoussian; assistant director, Jeremy Michael Cohen; casting, John McAlary.
  • With: Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress, Melissa Benoist, Daniel Edward Mora, Eric Christian Olsen, Stephen Lang, Beth Grant.