Observe the slacker in his natural habitat. When artistic achievements fall by the wayside, due to a lack of talents or motivation, most seek solace in the bottom of a mug of blue-collar brewski or from the mouth of a bong. Very rarely does solace come from a successful bank robbery, but that’s just one of the surprising turns this little doozy of an independent film takes. It’s whimsical fun, breezy and light-hearted and goofy, bouncing on the buoyant charm and energy of its mostly unheard-of cast. Skills touts carefree living over genuflecting at the altar of corporate cubicle living, but with a laidback cool vibe instead of the bitter rant most independent comedy depends on. While owing its soul to Mike Judge and his oeuvre, the flick manages to flitter through its short run time like McConaughey cruising for high school tang. While it falls apart towards the end with rudderless action, it makes you wish more independent films would fuck up in such an entertaining manner.
Max (Spencer Berger) is a terrible playwright. His play is so terrible it nearly kills his grandfather. He sits forlorn, his dreams of writing success shattered, with nothing to show for it but a spectacular afro. His two buddies — Dave (Gabriel Tigerman, who wrote the film with Berger), a highstrung deskmonkey, and Tommy (Brian D. Phelan), an aged frattard — try to comfort him in their local taqueria with plans for the future. Dave and Tommy joke about robbing the bank across the street to get money. Max decides to actually become a bank robber. He gets up from the table, throws on a pair of sunglasses and a beanie, crosses the street, snatches the security guard’s handgun, and holds it to his head, making away with over 50 grand.
His spontaneous kleptomania is an epiphany: this is what Max excels at — random acts of robbery. Like a hypnotically enlightened Ron Livingston, Max embarks on a journey of casual contentment while taking what he wants. This includes seducing the teller Lucy (Kerry Knuppe), whom he meets at a bar. What makes the film intriguing is that the robbery doesn’t necessarily lead to a series of heist attempts or any sort of gratuitous Mission: Impossible-style planning sessions like a down-on-his-luck Kevin Bannister. Max finds pleasure in stealing. While Dave freaks out and falls apart, his other friends are in awe of his achievement.
But the film really has nowhere to go from there, and that’s the problem. Even the filmmakers don’t really know what to do with skills like these. While the characters are charming and affable — Berger particularly steals the show (yuk yuk) — the film kind of meanders like a confused twentynothing. There aren’t any standout moments or scenes that will blow you away, but there are plenty of moments that straight up blow. There’s a sex scene which can’t decide if it wants to be exploitative or tender. For no apparent reason, other than to test out of a few backhandedly clever one-liners, Tommy takes Dave on his attempt at job interviews. Tommy, who mostly spends the film twitching and jocking like a lost Busey child, decides to become a fourth grade teacher, a paralegal, and a carny respectively. He needlessly catcalls a 10-year-old girl, cruises around on a tricked out Schwinn he calls Gloria, and desperately craves to be a getaway driver.
Ultimately, you’re willing to accept Skills Like This with all its flaws, because its got just such an affable nature, you kind of dig it. You’re willing to forgive all the glaringly stupid mistakes and poor choices because nothing is thrown in your face. You’ll definitely have a few laughs, but you won’t walk away clutching your sides. You’ll sigh and then get on with the rest of your day. With all the usual festival dreck that gets artschooled all over you in the indie film market, I’ll take slothful thievery over abortion manifestos and dreary relationship dramas any day.
Brian Prisco lives in a pina down by the mer-port of Burbank, by way of the cheesesteak-laden arteries of Philadelphia. Any and all grumblings can be directed to priscogospel at hotmail dot com.