This quick-witted comedic update on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would make Mark Twain proud.
Band of Robbers (LAFF Review)
There’s something really satisfying in a well-done adaptation, especially if it manages to walk its own original trail. Directed by brothers Adam and Aaron Nee, Band of Robbers takes the Americana classics The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and brings them to the present day in a hilarious crime comedy of errors that manages to maintain Mark Twain’s youthful silliness and broader themes of friendship and justice. Adam Nee also stars in the film as the scheming glory-glutton Tom Sawyer, and Kyle Gallner (Dear White People) stars as his best friend Huck Finn.
Their adventure begins with Huck Finn’s narration explaining the nature of his and Tom’s lifelong friendship. Since they were children, they’ve been on a search for an old pirate’s lost treasure, thwarted by local bad guy Injun Joe (around whom a hilarious recurring joke of cultural identity consistently delivers laughs). Years later, Huck, the one born into an abusive family, ends up spending some time in jail, and Tom, always looking for a way to glean some attention, has wound up as a police officer forced into the shadow of his hot-shot detective older brother. When Huck gets released, Tom gets their gang of friends together, including Joe Harper (Matthew Gray Gubler), Ben Rogers (Hannibal Buress), and Tommy Barnes (Johnny Pemberton).
Never one to waste a minute, the eccentric Tom takes advantage of the not-so-secret surprise party they’ve thrown for Huck and explains to the men that he’s hatched a full-proof plan to make them all rich, not to mention earn himself some deserved respect at work. He’s been given insider information from Muff Potter (Cooper Huckabee) that Injun Joe (Stephen Lang) has that long-lost treasure and has placed it in the safe kept at the local pawn shop. With his fast-talking ways and earnest eagerness,Tom convinces his band of misfits to agree to a preposterous plan that includes pretending to be Latinos in order to rip off the pawn shop, present Tom as a cop who happens upon the scene and tries to help, and then make off with the treasure they’ve sought for so long.
Of course things don’t go as they expected. Tom is matched with an unexpected new partner, Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist, Whiplash), and suddenly has an eager-to-please police officer in the way of his plan. He isn’t the only one who scrimps on the details of the plan, and soon the haphazard band of robbers have more than just the law out for them. But they can’t quit just yet when they come to realize they are closer to finding the treasure then they realized.
The film breaks down the heist into neat sections, the stakes steadily building. In the same way Twain’s classic tale provides very real danger for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, so do the Nee brothers keep the dark edge to their quirky comedy. But more significant is how consistent and true their characters remain. Not only to their boyish source material, but as wholly likable even in the midst of their scatterbrained venture.
Those familiar with the original stories will find the clever references to the character’s personalities and adventures amusing. Those unfamiliar will find a mischievous caper featuring perfectly delivered jokes, colorful charm, and sincere performances. The cinematography is grand enough to imbue an adventuresome vibe, but is mostly centered on its main characters in the midst of their action. The music is especially well curated, fitting the idiosyncrasies of the film and adding an extra layer of fun.
With such a large ensemble some of the talented co-stars aren’t given as much screen time as would satisfy, but this is truly Tom and Huck’s tale, and Nee and Gallner have a tangible chemistry that makes their unlikely friendship feel fitting. While Gallner narrates as Huck and is the moral compass to Tom’s crooked cop, Nee really shines with his comedic timing and bizarre charm. Band of Robbers is an exceptional ensemble comedy and an adventurous and original update that surely even Mark Twain would find flattering and quick-witted.