The arrival of the brand new Netflix original movie Shimmer Lake, a treacherous tale (told in reverse order) about a small town cop investigating a bank robbery, makes this an opportune time to highlight other movies involving heists.
Looking back, some of the earliest films ever made were about heists. The Great Train Robbery, released in 1903, is one of the seminal short films from the silent era. Since then, heist movies have never gone out of style and have even evolved to include the comedic sub-genre sometimes referred to as “capers.” This week we will turn our attention beyond Shimmer Lake, which slides between deadly serious and darkly comical, to some worthwhile comedy crime capers currently appearing on Netflix.
As is often the case, heists tend to go haywire on the silver screen, as evinced by the armored truck robbery flick, Masterminds. The film, which stars Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig, got mediocre reviews when it was first released, but the underrated movie should find the audience it deserves now that it’s streaming online.
Band of Robbers comes with a pretty neat literary twist, imagining Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn all grown up and living in the present. The friends’ thirst for adventure leads them on a quest for a long-lost treasure, but first they must hold up a pawn shop. What’s the worst that can happen? Plenty, as it turns out.
For our flashback pick, there’s the ‘80s slapstick comedy Three Fugitives with Nick Nolte and Martin Short, featuring a bank robbery you’re not likely to forget.
Two international pictures close out this week’s column. It’s Britain vs. Lithuania in the action-packed Redirected, a movie that proves once again that stealing from mobsters is never a good idea. And, finally, we go down to Brazil for Jules and Dolores, a mostly true account of the 1983 theft of the World Cup trophy.
Warning: May Contain Spoilers
Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis
Director: Jared Hess
Genre: Crime, Comedy
Based on a true story about a not-so-bright armored truck driver (Zach Galifianakis) who is persuaded to rob $17 million in bank money and then escape to Mexico, Masterminds highlights the short-sighted brain functioning of amateur crooks.
Galifianakis plays a likable as a guy who isn’t exactly smart, but deep down seems like a decent enough person — it’s just that he’s a little vain and a total sucker for love. He’s can’t see that the “mastermind” of this heist (Owen Wilson) is taking advantage of the crush he has on his female co-worker (Kristen Wiig) and is obviously going to double cross him.
In addition to Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones show up in some of the movie’s funniest moments. The ladies from the Ghostbusters (2016) squad are not the only potential scene-stealers. Also worth mentioning is another SNL alum, Jason Sudeikis, as a clueless hitman. Together, these talented comedians make Masterminds a good one-time watch, ideal for a mellow night in.
Band of Robbers (2015)
Starring: Kyle Gallner, Adam Nee, Matthew Gray Gubler, Hannibal Buress
Directors: Aaron Nee, Adam Nee
Genre: Independent, Crime, Comedy, Adventure
Those well-versed in the literary classics of Mark Twain may get something extra out of this peculiar indie. The film takes Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and transforms them into adults living in the modern world who rob a pawn shop as part of their quest to find a hidden treasure.
Band of Robbers blends together portions and elements from Twain’s books, but also adds numerous original bits, such as replacing the character Jim the slave with Jorge, an undocumented Mexican worker. And while the movie doesn’t always flow as naturally as it should, the idiosyncratic humor (found mostly in the dialogue) goes a long way. Plus, you don’t have to be that familiar with the books to get a kick out of it.
Three Fugitives (1989)
Starring: Nick Nolte, Martin Short, Sarah Rowland Doroff
Director: Francis Veber
Three Fugitives is a mostly forgotten ‘80s relic that holds up relatively well today. The music score is a bit dated, but the high-quality cinematography of the respected Haskell Wexler adds another dimension to French director Francis Veber’s American remake of his own film, Les Fugitifs.
Prominently on display are Martin Short’s talent for physical comedy, as well as Nick Nolte’s gruff, no-nonsense demeanor as the straight man. Actually, Nolte is the straight man in more ways than one. He portrays a bank robber who, on the same day he gets out of prison, goes to a bank to open a new account and start a clean life. Unfortunately, he runs into Short, who is holding up the same bank.
The third fugitive in the story is Short’s young, troubled daughter (Sarah Rowland Doroff). It’s obvious that the studio was trying to capitalize on the success of 3 Men and a Baby (1987), but as schmaltzy as Three Fugitives gets at times, it’s held together by the impressive slapstick shenanigans of Nolte and Short.
Starring: Vinnie Jones, Scot Williams, Gil Darnell, Andrius Ziurauskas
Director: Emilis Velyvis
Genre: Foreign, Crime, Action, Comedy
Fans of films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch may want to give this one a go. Redirected is a balls-to-the-wall, politically incorrect roller coaster ride with enough twists and turns to keep you hooked until the very end.
The action starts early. British gangsters get ripped off at a poker game (the result of a poorly-planned inside job) and they don’t take it kindly when their money’s ripped off, hunting down the robbers all the way to Lithuania. The country-hopping mayhem culminates in a showdown at a barnyard wedding that is as violent as it is absurd.
As mentioned, a good deal of the humor is crass and not for the easily offended, with the criminals on both sides hurling insults over the language barrier. And while a couple of the close-calls and life-saving coincidences the characters go through may be a bit predictable, the movie zips along at a pace that never lets up, keeping things entertaining from start to finish.
Jules and Dolores (2016)
Starring: Paulo Tiefenthaler, Taís Araújo, Danilo Grangheia, Milhem Cortaz
Director: Caito Ortiz
Genre: Foreign, Crime, Comedy
Inspired by actual events, Jules and Dolores offers up a semi-fictional take on the infamous robbery of the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy, which was awarded to Brazil in 1970 for winning the World Cup three times, and was subsequently stolen in 1983. Most of the major details of the theft are included, but the film — which convincingly recreates the era — has fun imagining the motives of the two main criminals, a unscrupulous insurance salesman with gambling problems (Paulo Tiefenthaler) and an arrogant ex-cop (Danilo Grangheia).
One of the entertaining things about heist movies is watching thieves come up with elaborate plans. Jules and Dolores does away with that right from the start — the trophy practically falls into the robbers’ laps — making this one of the most casual heists you’re likely to see. The real problems for the crooks, however, is trying to unload the trophy in a country where soccer is religion. Ultimately, this is another case of how greed and the allure of an easy life can cause people to steal, but how those same motives are exactly what can lead them to getting caught.