January is a notoriously terrible month for movies. Seriously, what are you seeing this weekend, the crappy horror movie or the even crappier comedy? There is another option, of course— one that may be especially appealing this time of year— the VOD release.
Band of Robbers is a small movie, written and directed by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee, that accomplishes the if not impossible, at least incredibly difficult feat of modernizing and adapting a classic novel with equal parts quality storytelling and great tongue-in-cheekedness. Here, Adam Nee plays Tom Sawyer— an adult, contemporary, charismatic but completely inept police officer version of Tom Sawyer, drowning in his own delusions of heroic grandeur. Kyle Gallner (Veronica Mars’ Beaver) is Huck Finn, newly released ex-con who just wants to go clean and find a family, but can’t resist the pull of his lifelong best friend’s promise of that one last perfect crime. In true Tom Sawyer fashion, things go south, in large part because of the new rookie cop and daughter of an important town figure, Becky Thatcher (the new Supergirl Melissa Benoist). And, in further classic Sawyer, everyone around him ends up deeper in trouble than Tom himself.
If that sounds like the exact plot of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, that’s because this movie doesn’t make any pretenses about trying to deviate from that source material. Instead, it’s in the humor and style that the movie makes its mark. Now I have to preface some of this by saying that I haven’t read a page of Tom or Huck in well over a decade, but this is probably one of the best adaptations of this type that I can remember seeing. The characters are very obviously the modern adult counterparts to their classic selves, but they also stand alone as their own people. The overall style of the movie is fun and engaging, and just cartoonishly stylized enough for things like actual buried treasure to be believable. It doesn’t beat you over the head with the “joke” of the modernizing, and the overt references to the original source material didn’t seem overwhelming. That’s clearly where they got their plot points, but there were just enough winks and nods to be fun without making you roll your eyes. At least, again, for a casual Sawyer fan— which, I would guess, is this movie’s target demographic anyway. The supportive cast made up of a who’s who of beloved character actors (Hannibal Buress,Matthew Gray Gubler, and Johnny Pemberton round out the band of robbers, and Creed Bratton and Beth Grant make solid appearances, along with Stephen Lang as a villain that was clearly written for Christopher Walken), along with the charisma and infectious laugh of Adam Nee is also not to be underestimated in how likable this movie is.
Now, I will say that as likable as Band of Robbers is, you may not find it entirely lovable. It is fun, and it is funny, but it probably lacks the substance to give it much staying power. It’s a perfect lazy, don’t-wanna-leave-the-couch weekend afternoon movie; the kind of movie where you don’t necessarily care that the third act has weird pacing and story structure issues (using book chapters as your screenplay outline makes the whole thing feel like odd vignettes that eventually drift off into nothingness), or that Becky Thatcher is written to be mindnumbingly, infuriatingly naive. (If not for Supergirl, we would have no idea of the degree to which Melissa Benoist’s talents were wasted here.) But the charm of the movie outweighs its faults, at least (and beyond) the scope of a fun movie at home.