A Bag of Hammers
Directed by Brian Crano
The title Bag of Hammers refers to a metaphor about building character through life's hardships, rather than its more common usage as a measure of something's idiocy (as in, "dumber than a"). The filmmakers should've Googled their lynchpin phrase given how easily critics will be able to repurpose it to describe the movie.
Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig star as a pair of low-rent car thieves who pose as cemetery valets; the story at one point hinges, mystifyingly, on this being a two-man job, as well as the man facet of their supposed char. Rebecca Hall, in quite a fall from working with Woody Allen (or Ben Affleck for that matter), co-stars as Sandvig's sister, who works in a waffle shop and half-heartedly lectures the two about their ways while not being so above them as to decline financial help.
But this isn't a story about the moral compromises poverty might require, or grifting; the real plot kicks in with the arrival of a standard-issue cute kid next door, and that's when things get icky. In a turn of events far too serious for the flimsy film to support, the kid's negligent mother kills herself, and the two debate raising the kid on their own after covering up the suicide.
There's nothing wrong with this premise so long as it's handed with the right tone and bite. A scathing dark comedy could be made from this premise. But Hammers makes the stupefying miscalculation of positioning its two leads as noble heroes while a responsible schoolteacher is made the villain for thinking the foster system, flawed though it may be, a better choice than irresponsible criminals.
Rather than actually consider what it would mean for these two to become guardians, the film flashes forward to a preposterous climax where the kid grows up to become a well-adjusted college freshman, skipping completely over the dramatic and tough part of the story, as though not even the filmmakers could delude themselves that their story held water. Hammers should end with a disclaimer assuring viewers that if they attempt to replicate the story, the results will be a massive tragedy instead of a dud of a comedy.
Opens May 11