High Liferecommended viewing

I like it, you like it
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Gary Yates
Starring: 
Timothy Olyphant, Stephen Eric McIntyre, Rossif Sutherland, Joe Anderson
The Setup: 
Four not-bright morphine addicts try to knock over a bank to support their habit.
Discussion: 

I like heist movies--especially when the criminals are idiots and things go horribly wrong. And I like drug movies--especially when they focus on the addict's antics while they're high. So when you have a heist movie where the crime goes horribly wrong because all involved are stupid and high, well, it's going to be hard for me not to like that. Add to it that it's energetic, well written and acted, quite funny and stars Timothy Olyphant, fast becoming one of my favorite actors, and it's a winner.

We open with a voice-over saying something to the effect of "If you could have anything in the world you wanted, what would you want?" and a voice answers "Morphine." Then it asks "And if you could have all the morphine you wanted?" And the voice answers "Morphine. Then we have some zippy animated credits, during which we find out that this is based on a play and is a Canadian production, which, as usual, means "Quality. Though perhaps somewhat less exciting."

Okay, so this fellow Bug gets out of jail, and locates his friend Dick, played by Olyphant, working as a janitor at a hospital. Dick takes him into a supply closet to talk, where Bug starts grabbing rubber gloves and hypodermics, promptly getting Dick fired. So they go home and do some morphine. Dick's voice-over tells us that morphine is "the drug of choice for the intelligent addict" since it is natural and you inject it right into your muscle without having to find a vein. By the way, this is 1983, the addicts are stunned that the main drug has become cocaine, and the music has gone from hard rock [April Wine receives much play on the fairly awesome soundtrack] and ATMs are just coming into being. Along with Donnie [played by Joe Anderson who just co-starred brilliantly with Olyphant in The Crazies], who makes his living by bilking ATMs, the group decide that they're going to pose as ATM repairmen and get in and take all the cash. This is after we see Dick trying to steal a car--then find out that it belongs to the new companion of his ex-wife, where he sees his son, who he has been long separated from, for a second. The movie does an excellent job of dropping in little things like that to fill out character without stopping the momentum of the film.

SPOILERS > > >
They also recruit the handsome Billy, who has a bit of the laid-back stoner handsomeness of Billy Zane. They need him to charm the teller at the bank. There is a bit of homo rivalry when Bug finds out that he can't be the handsome charmer anymore, and Billy starts razzing Bug for being gay immediately. They're all a little weirded out that Billy has never done time, as the rest of them all have, but Dick explains that "He's just been unlucky when it comes to prison." Then--they're going to enact their heist the next day! No long planning for them. Dick announces that they all have to be sharp, so NO morphine for them that night. Then they all immediately shoot up. We see that Billy's homo vibe from Bug is not out of the blue when, while riding his initial high, Bug tries to make out with him.

So it's the heist. Donnie is high and has to pee. Bug demands some of Donnie's blow and gets high himself. The plan is that Billy is going to go in, charm the teller, and tell her that the machine gave him $600 when he only wanted $60. Ideally, the teller will then call the repairmen, and our criminals will go in. Thing is, the teller doesn't call anyone, and just pockets the cash. So they're screwed. When an armored truck shows up, Bug decides to jump out of the car and hold up the truck. Chaos ensues--and there are several more terribly amusing twists and turns to come. And you know they're good, because if they weren't, I would be blabbing all about them.
< < < SPOILERS END

This puts one in mind of the split that usually affects direct-to-DVD movies: they're either so awful they couldn't be released, or they're sometimes quite good but just don't have a hook, or the right stars, or their appeal is a bit too esoteric to appeal to the moronic masses. This is in the latter category. It is very propulsive and amusing [it's one of those where you just start chuckling to yourself and don't stop], it is sharply written with great characters, well-directed and looks great, and the actors are all quite good. But it somehow remains a bit low-stakes and the ending, while quite perfect for what it is, is still the tiniest bit... you know, Canadian.

Its provenance as a play comes out in the sharply-written characters. Dick is very amusing as the addict who is just a touch smarter than his companions, and that tiny bit where we see his ex-wife and he sees his son for as split-second tells us all we need to know to construct the once-satisfying life he lost through his addiction. The film also makes excellent use of Olyphant's wild-eyed stare as he desperately tries to process, and manage, the idiocy of his co-conspirators. The other actor/character that makes an enduring impression is Stephen Eric McIntyre as Bug. This is a guy who cannot see more than 30 minutes into the future, has the impulse control of an infant, and is mentally unable to see or accept the consequences of his actions. McIntyre's triumph is to make this guy totally believable, absolutely familiar as a type we all know, and balance his persona between quite amusingly stupid and simultaneously terrifyingly violent and irrational. The final scenes between him and Dick are enough to make you wish there could be a series of films with these two characters.

Although this was a play, it never seems bound to one place, in fact, sometimes I wondered how they would do all of this on a stage. It reminded me mainly of another play-turned-crime film, In Bruges. That film was quite good, but it was showy with ostentatious dialogue and a big gotcha twist, and while it was fine, I think ultimately I prefer this one. It's not as big a crowd-pleaser and doesn't have the big twist, but the characters seem quite real--as opposed to a smart playwright's creations--and the whole thing just stays much more grounded in reality, with recognizable characters and true-to-life emotions and resonance. Very much worth seeking out, especially if you, like me, like dumb-and-stoned heist fiasco movies.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, look for it. It'll show you a good time, though perhaps not rock your world.