Directed by Sarik Andreasyan. Produced by George Malkov, Sarik Andreasyan, Ghevond Andreassian, Tove Christensen, Hayden Christensen, and Vladimir Polyakov. Written by Raul Inglis. Release date: June 19, 2015.
With a title like “American Heist,” you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to be getting either a generic heist movie, or a satire of generic heist movies. Given that the film is a direct-to-VOD release, chances are you can already figure out which one of the two it is. There’s nothing to be found in American Heist that you haven’t seen in either any bank robbery movie ever, or Payday 2. The latter is actually a pretty apt comparison, as both have pretty much the same amount of story and depth. Actually, Payday 2 might have more of each, and if you’ve ever played Payday 2, you know that its setup is about the bare minimum.
Hayden Christensen is our lead, here playing James, a former getaway driver who, after serving a short stint in the clink, has started to turn his life around. He’s got a good job, has started to reconnect with an ex-girlfriend, Emily (Jordana Brewster), and is even looking at trying to move up in the world. But when his brother, Frankie (Adrien Brody) gets released from prison, things begin to go sideways, because if your brother was a tatted-up Adrien Brody, it’d be hard to continue to walk the straight and narrow.
With the help of Sugar (Akon) and Ray (Tory Kittles), a hilariously named duo who spout off criticisms of the American Dream and banks – the film’s attempt at being about something that comes off as superficial – the two are going to rob a bank. That’s the entirety of the plot. Frankie wants the money, James gets forced into it on pain of death, and that’s the entirety of the movie. Whether or not they pull it off is the only question still left unanswered, and if you’ve ever seen a movie with these types of characters, you’re going to be able to figure out, more or less, how it plays out – except then American Heist continues for about three minutes too long and concludes in a silly and unsatisfactory manner.
The internet informs me that American Heist is technically based on a Steve McQueen-led movie from the 1950s, The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, which itself was based on a real-life robbery from a few years earlier. It doesn’t really feel like it, but maybe that’s just because of how utterly generic and boring American Heist is. Perhaps it’s true that this movie is based on the earlier one, but take any bank robbery film you want and you’d probably assume that it’s based on that. This is the no-name brand of heist movies. It has no identity of its own and doesn’t ever aspire to do anything than throw all of the genre’s tropes at us in something that almost resembles a coherent narrative.
There’s nothing to be found in American Heist that you haven’t seen in either any bank robbery movie ever, or Payday 2.
The best part of American Heist is also one of the worst, which sounds weird, but hear me out. Adrien Brody is miscast as a street-tough gangster. It’s hilarious watching him try to pull it off, because if there’s one person who doesn’t at all look like he’s able to ruthlessly kill someone, it’s Oscar-winner Adrien Brody. Yes, I remember Predators; this is even less believable than that. And yet, when Brody has to deliver lines in which he explains what happens in prison, you almost start to buy it. While Brody was miscast, he’s at least trying to do something with the role, which is more than you can say from everyone else.
Hayden Christensen, for example, is a blank entity who’s so lacking in charisma that you have to wonder if he realized what project he’s signed up for and decided to just sleepwalk his way through it. Jordana Brewster is a nonentity as the love interest, making you wonder why she’s here except to raise the stakes by being a target for the gangsters to force Christensen’s character to go along with the plan. Their obligatory romance subplot gets maybe three scenes, and it’s laughably bad. Tory Kittles and Akon are both boring gangsters who deliver little in the way of acting chops. Brody’s the only actor who puts in any effort, and it’s just a shame that you can’t ever believe him in the role.
There aren’t a lot of good heist movies being made nowadays, and American Heist, from its generic title all the way to its bored-looking actors, is the prototype for the bad ones. It takes a bunch of genre tropes, throws them together with a story that makes Payday 2 look impressive, and then hopes that it works. It doesn’t. Not at all. Adrien Brody, miscast as he is, is the only worthwhile part of American Heist, and he can’t even come close to saving it.
Bottom Line: An utterly generic heist movie, American Heist is awful from start to finish.
Recommendation: Don’t see American Heist. Don’t think about American Heist.[rating=1]