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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: A Bag of Hammers

One of the Most Pleasant "Silver Screen Surprises" in Recent Memory

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: 2011 
Rating: NR
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running Time: 85 minutes
Director: Brian Crano
Writers: Jake Sandvig, Brian Crano
Cast: Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, 
Chandler Canterbury, Rebecca Hall, 
Todd Louiso, Gabriel Macht, Carrie Preston, 
Amanda Seyfried (uncredited)

"A Bag of Hammers" begins with two friends, Ben and Alan (Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig), arguing over the toughness of pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior. Then they move on to Cloris Leachman.

They're con men who make their money through various grifts. Their favorite scheme seems to be posing as valet parking attendants at funerals, only to steal and sell the cars. Unbeknownst to them, one of those automobiles belongs to Ben's ex-girlfriend (played by an uncredited Amanda Seyfried).

These early moments of silliness demonstrate Jason Ritter's considerable charisma and comedic talent. He obviously learned a thing or two from his famous late dad, John Ritter.

Things become more serious when Lynette (Carrie Preston) and her young son Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury) enter the picture. They live next door to Ben and Alan. She pays them rent. Lynette is in over her head as both a mother and potential employee – qualified for neither. Preston plays the role with sad, angry desperation.

As the film shifts in tone, Ritter and Sandvig shift right with it. In a very emotional scene, Ben and Alan are sitting in a diner across from young Kelsey while Alan's sister Melanie (a waitress played by Rebecca Hall) looks on. Ben uses the death of his older brother to explain to the little boy that life sometimes hands us "a bag of hammers." One can't help but wonder if Jason Ritter was channeling his own feelings about the untimely passing of his real-life father.

Ritter delivers an outstanding dramatic performance in that moment, but he doesn't do it alone – Hall and child actor Canterbury match him emotionally while Sandvig sits back silently and lets his facial expressions do all the talking.

There are more serious moments ahead, but the film doesn't completely lose sight of its fun and whimsy. These series of tonal changes would be fatal in the wrong actors' hands, but Ritter, Sandvig, and Canterbury effortlessly switch from comedy to drama and back again without missing a beat. In that way, watching this movie is like seeing someone hit over the head by a bag of hammers – it's painful and tragic one minute and Looney Tunes funny the next.

"A Bag of Hammers" is as comical as Cloris Leachman and packs the power of The Ultimate Warrior.

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