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The Independent Critic

Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, Rebecca Hall, Todd Louiso, Chandler Canterbury, Amanda Seyfried, Gabriel Macht
Brian Crano
Jake Sandvig, Brian Crano
87 Mins.
MPI Media Group

 "A Bag of Hammers" Review 
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The word "quirky" seems to be defining the official selections for the 2011 Indianapolis International Film Festival, and this low-budget indie is no exception. Having had its world premiere at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival, A Bag of Hammers is the kind of film that's so quirky it drives some folks mad while others will find its awkward mixture of comedy and drama refreshing and even endearing.

Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) are two misfit best friends seemingly incapable of growing up. They're not exactly stellar role models, making a living posing as valets at mostly funerals then stealing the cars despite the constant admonishment of Ben's sister, Melanie (Rebecca Hall). One day, a young mother (Carrie Preston) and her young son, Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury), move into their rental home and the young boy slowly works himself into the lives of these irresponsible young men. Before long, Kelsey's abusive home life is revealed and when tragedy strikes Ben and Alan realize they have only one choice in order to protect Kelsey.

Together, they all invent the family they've always needed.

Simultaneously predictable yet quirky, A Bag of Hammers is a film that never quite achieves its potential yet is a far more entertaining and emotionally involving film than you might expect largely due to its excellent ensemble cast and Sandvig and Crano's gifts for dialogue.

Directing his first full-length feature after two shorts, it's pretty clear that Brian Crano has made some fast and solid friends in Hollywood. Crano earned a B.A. in Theatre, Film and Television from UCLA by the time he was 18-years-old, and earned a post-graduate degree in classical acting and text from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Crano obviously has a comfort level with his cast here, and they return the favor by giving his film a tremendous amount of heart and humor.

Jason Ritter, perhaps still more known as John Ritter's son than for his acting career, probably hasn't done himself any favors in removing that familial connection here as he displays all that wonderful likability and comic timing that his father possessed. Yet, truthfully, by the time the film was over it had become clear that this was simply a perfect role for the consistently working yet still under-the-radar actor.

Jake Sandvig, who also co-wrote the film with Crano, last appeared in the comedy Easy A and it's his sibling-like chemistry with Ritter that really gives this film a rather delightful blend of Farrelly meets Apatow. Sandvig matches Ritter's intertwining of light touches of sentimentality with a gift for comic timing.

The film's real gift, despite her supporting role, is the presence of longtime Crano friend Rebecca Hall. As Ben's sister, Hall turns an easily tossed away role into a central piece of the puzzle. Whether performing her little dance to greet customers at the restaurant where she works or gently exploring Kelsey's background, Hall gives A Bag of Hammers an emotional grounding that it desperately needed.

Chandler Canterbury is solid in the challenging role of Kelsey, a 12-year-old boy whose quirkiness has an emotional center of traumatic baggage and emotional need. Todd Louiso and Carrie Preston round out the cast, Louiso with his trademark goofy charm and Preston by providing the film with several of its more dramatic moments.

To be sure, there are moments in A Bag of Hammers that don't quite gel and the ending doesn't quite end with the "Oomph" that one might hope would carry the film home.

The camera work by Byron Shah and Quyen Tran is fairly straightforward yet effective, while the film is complemented by a stellar, atmospheric soundtrack that fits the film's shifting moods quite nicely. Filmed on a less than $500,000 production budget, A Bag of Hammers plants the seeds for a lengthy and memorable filmmaking career for Brian Crano and, once again, makes you appreciate this fine cast of both indie and mainstream Hollywood performers.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic