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Title: American Heist

Movie: :2.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :1.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:69

The DTV business has changed a lot since I was a kid. Back then if you saw the world Direct to Video, you ran like the wind because the only films that weren’t given a theatrical release were bottom barrel films. Fast forward 20 years and that stigma isn’t as accurate as it once was. Films that would normally have been given a theatrical release are shifted over to the DTV market due to not being a tent pole blockbuster, and that means the non-theatrical market is rife with bad, decent, good and sometimes REALLY good films. Unfortunately “American Heist” is not one of those good films. Mired in clichés and shaky storytelling, it’s your standard bottom of the barrel flick with once great actors taking humbling roles, combined with wanna be actors trying their best to make it big time.

James Kelly (Hayden Christensen) is an ex con who’s trying to turn his life around. Working at a local mechanics garage, he’s no longer jacking cars and dodging cops, instead trading in a life of crime for a life of honest toil. He’s made up with his old girlfriend Emily (Jordana Brewster), and even has a small place of his own. It’s not much, but it’s a start in world that doesn’t exactly give ex-cons the time of day. Things change for the worse when James’ brother Frankie (Adrien Brody) gets out of prison. It seems that Frankie took the rap for a job that went bad 10 years ago, one which left Frankie rotting in jail while James was able to go free and restart his life. James sees the warning signs from a mile away, but with Frankie being his brother, those warning signs fail to stop the duo from getting involved with the wrong people.

In over their heads with some pals of Frankie, (played by Akon and Tory Tittles), the brothers are forced into one last job, one that will hopefully give them a running start on the bills piling over James’s head, and allow Frankie to get a clean break after his incarceration. Begrudgingly following along under thread of his life, Frankie’s life AND Emily’s life, James agrees to this final assault, hoping it will be his last. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that things are going to go horribly wrong, and go wrong they do with the bank robbery turning into a giant cluster bomb of epic proportions. With cops at every angle, and every escape route closed off, one of the brothers has to make a final sacrifice for the other, in hopes that at least ONE of them can make it out of their alive.

I was leery going into “American Heist” knowing the cast at hand. On one hand we have Jordana Brewster and Adrien Brody, both of which have delivered good to GREAT performances in the past, especially Brody. On the other hand, we have Akon, who’s basically your standard rapper wanting to be a movie star, and Hayden Christensen himself. The only man I’ve ever known to be more wooden than a 2x4 beam. Surprisingly Hayden is NOT the worst part of the movie, even though I’ve never seen him be able to act his way out of a paper bag. Brody is given that honor, playing his role from “Summer of Sam” amped up to level 10, playing the whole “whigga” routine to the hilt (he alone almost tanks the movie in that regards). We get that he was messed up on the inside of the joint during his 10 year stay, but the constant chewing of scenery got old REAL fast. Thankfully Akon has only a dozen lines, so really he’s just there to look pretty and try to be intimidating, so no harm, no foul. Jordana Brewster is kind of wasted here, playing the standard emotional love interest for our hero, James, and exists only to add some form of emotional anchor for him to want to protect. Her acting job is neither good, nor bad, just underutilized.

The positive side of things is the fact that unknown Russian director Sarik Andreasyan ACTUALLY does a really solid job behind the camera. The only downside is that he’s given a script that is beyond horrible to work with. I’m usually forgiving of plot holes in action movies, but there wasn’t a 5 minute period where I wasn’t banging my head against my remote control and yelling “come on!?” at the screen. Given that the film had a $10 million budget, I was floored at how much mileage they got out of it. Had you asked me I would have thought that it was a lot higher than it was, but the shiny New Orleans background worked quite well, never giving away the fact that this was shot on the ultra-cheap. The end battle sequence alone shows some real talent, as the camera work, stunt work and knowledge of combat is actually really well done. It may not rival “Die Hard” for engaging action work, but there aren’t a million quick cuts, and the use of military tactics was well conceived.


Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexual material and brief drug use.

Video :4stars:
The best part about the whole package is the inclusion of a very solid 2.40:1 framed 1080p encode by Lionsgate. The majority of the film looks INCREDIBLE, with razor sharp details and a crispness that defies its budget roots. Facial detail is amazing, with sharp lines and impeccable clarity. Long shots looks a little softer, but not by a whole lot. Some of the darker shots are a bit more color graded, given an orange and gold tint that tries to imitate a gritty look. In those instances we see bits of digital noise and some blacks that look a bit smeary. Outside of those “gritty” shot scenes, the black levels are deep and inky, showing fantastic shadow detail and impeccable depth. There’s a few times where the glossy “digital” look shines through, but the movie looks incredibly filmic despite the use of cheaper digital cameras (which I tip my hat to the director and camera operators for).

Audio :4stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on the disc manages to be just as good as the video encode. There’s not a whole lot of action in the 95 minute film, but the last half an hour opens up the sound stage and gives us an aggressive finale for the movie, complete with gunfire popping from all directions, explosions and an intense use of the score. The rest of the time it’s a bit more like your standard drama. The dialog is locked up front and the rest of the effects tend to stay in the front of the room. LFE is punchy and tight, coming through when needed with some low end for the score, as well adding some impact for the muscle cars being driven around town and that end battle. It’s good, almost bordering on being great at times, and definitely nothing to be ashamed of. B+

Extras :1.5stars:

• Creating a Complex Caper: Pulling off "American Heist" Featurette
• Previews

Overall: :3.5stars:

“American Heist” is not exactly a great movie, but it fortunately isn’t completely horrible either. The movie is given a director who actually knows how to direct, despite being a complete nobody, but is unfortunately hampered in his efforts by an atrocious script. The end result is rather choppy and sometimes almost horrifically entertaining as you watch Adrien Brody act like the world’s oldest white boy gangsta for 95 minutes. Still, there’s not much in the way of entertainment value except to watch that last 25 minute scene inside the bank, despite the good audio and video scores. I hesitate to give it a COMPLETE pass, but at the same time, it’s barely in rental territory.

Additional Information:

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Adrien Brody, Jordana Brewster
Directed by: Sarik Andreasyan
Written by: Raul Inglis
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 94 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: September 8th 2015

Buy American Heist On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Skip It/Cheap Rental

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