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SXSW Film Review: ‘A Bad Idea Gone Wrong’

A mildly amusing comedy about would-be thieves and a not-so-innocent bystander.

Matt Jones, Eleanore Pienta, Will Rogers, Jonny Mars, Sam Eidson, Jennymarie Jemison.

The quirkiness quotient is sufficiently elevated to provide modest amusement in “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong,” a lightweight comedy that, with only minor tweaking, could be reverse-engineered into the kind of one-set, three-act bagatelle often staged at dinner theaters decades ago. It’s a familiar tale of novice criminals who find themselves several leagues out of their depth during their first attempt at a big score, with only a few fresh twists — and at least one, ahem, kink — to set it apart from other iterations of that scenario. Even so, at the risk of damning it with the faintest of praise, it is appreciably more pleasant, and more consistently funny, than several major studio releases in recent memory that were deceptively ballyhooed as laugh riots.

Despite telltale signs that neither guy is ready to quit his day job, slackerish buddies Marlon (Matt Jones) and Leo (Will Rogers) aim to kick off a life of crime by brainstorming a burglary. Leo, an introvert nursing a bruised heart after breaking up with his long-time fiancée, proposes the perfect spot for their debut heist, a lavishly appointed house in a gated community. Marlon, a grandiloquent fellow with misplaced confidence in his own craftiness, accepts the suggestion without considering that Leo might have ulterior motives — like, maybe, revenge — for choosing to plunder this particular place.

Complications arise when Marlon inadvertently activates the alarm system on the premises, seriously impeding their ability to get out after they break in. And those complications get even more complicated when the neophyte thieves discover they are not alone: Darcy (Eleanor Pienta), a brassy young woman who identifies herself as a housesitter, is fast asleep in the master bedroom before she is rudely awakened and impudently assertive.

The three well-cast leads acquit themselves as first-rate farceurs throughout “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong,” which received a special jury award for best ensemble at the SXSW Film Festival. It’s merely an observation, not intended as criticism, to note how easy it is to imagine Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Elizabeth Perkins being cast not so long ago in the same roles more than capably played here by, respectively, Rogers, Jones and Pienta.

First-time filmmaker Jason Headley, directing from his own screenplay, keeps his concoction moving briskly and humorously, with a light sprinkling of acceptably sweet sentimentality here and there. Granted, he wraps up the narrative with a shamelessly contrived plot development that’s not so much telegraphed as it is sent by Pony Express, so that you can see it approaching from far, far in the distance. Before that, however, Headley shrewdly introduces another character, a security guard played by Jonny Mars, who enhances the tomfoolery by suggesting, albeit briefly, the possibility of serious consequences.

SXSW Film Review: 'A Bad Idea Gone Wrong'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 15, 2017. (Also at Dallas Intl. Film Festival.) Running time: 85 MIN.

Production: A Red Entertainment production in association with Ten Acre Films. (International sales: Preferred Content.) Producers: Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Red Sanders. Executive producers: Craig Kelly, Doug Oppenheimer, Lisa Rettew, Mac Lawson, Luther King. Co-producer: Derek Brown.

Crew: Director, writer: Jason Headley. Camera (color): Nathan Smith. Editor: Tim Fender.

With: Matt Jones, Eleanore Pienta, Will Rogers, Jonny Mars, Sam Eidson, Jennymarie Jemison.

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