Sundance 2011: FLYPAPER Review

     January 29, 2011

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The films I saw at Sundance this year involved a variety of subjects ranging from hippies to shot-gun wielding hobos to cults to young love to hippies to puppetry to cults to euthanasia to hippies to Roger Corman to cults.  I didn’t think my first year at Sundance would close out with an inoffensive, innocuous movie like Flypaper.  A caper comedy that wants to be Inside Man meets Clue meets Ten Little Indians but never becomes a fraction as good as any of those movies, Flypaper still manages some laughs due to its manic energy, non-stop jokes, and the brilliant Tim Blake Nelson.

As a bank is about to shut down for the weekend, it is held up by two different robbery crews.  One crew (played by Mekhi Phifer, John Ventimiglia, and Matt Ryan) is lean, efficient, and plans to go for the vault while at the same time a couple of hillbillies calling themselves “Peanut Butter & Jelly” (Tim Blake Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince) aim to get the money out of the ATMs by using weapons-grade plastic explosives they bought off the Internet.  Caught in the middle are the bank employees and Trip (Patrick Dempsey), a neurotic customer who believes there’s more going on than just two concurrent bank robberies.  While each robbery crew runs into difficulties in their respective heists, Trip runs around trying to piece together a conspiracy he sees at the heart of this unlikely coincidence of dual robberies.  Why does he care so much about solving the mystery?  Because he’s neurotic and wants to solve the mystery and that’s about as much as Flypaper cares to explain its lead character.

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Director Rob Minkoff throws as much madcap comic energy as he can at the film in order to give it a pulse and an identity, but it never amounts to much.  He gives away the “twists” the movie is planning through the animated opening titles and so the audience spends half the film waiting for matters to go south.  But even knowing the arc of the movie wouldn’t be so bad if Flypaper didn’t turn its creative premise into something so painfully derivative.  It has nothing clever in the way of plotting, the special effects are laughably terrible, and the neurosis of Dempsey’s character never goes beyond talking fast and observing everything.

There are some ridiculously handsome actors in Hollywood who can kill at wacky comedy.  Brad Pitt did it in Burn After Reading.  George Clooney did it in O Brother, Where Art Thou? Matt Damon did it in The Informant! But Dempsey lacks that spark of personality.  He’s a handsome guy with a winning smile but there’s nothing bizarre or outlandish about him.  Watching Trip run around the bank, I didn’t see a character as much as I saw a hyperactive Patrick Dempsey who had a five-o-clock shadow and was really good at math.

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The movie has a talented cast that includes Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Huebel, and Pruitt Taylor Vince, but the only actor who really shines is Nelson.  The character is a bit of retread of Delmar from O Brother, but Nelson just knows the art of playing a dumb criminal and doing it in a way that feels fresh and inventive.  Other characters get an occasional good line or two, but sometimes the writing seems like it’s trying too hard to be edgy.  If you’re going to make anti-Semitic or racist jokes, you better be sure that they’re funny otherwise it’s just kind of sad.

I saw some daring, challenging films at this year’s Sundance.  Some worked (Martha Marcy May Marlene), some didn’t (Tyrannosaur), but almost all of them felt like movies that should be part of an independent film festival atmosphere.  Flypaper was an odd flick to close out my Sundance experience because the movie is so bland and forgettable, and my first year at the festival was anything but.

Rating: C-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far:

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