Editor’s Instant Video Picks: Funny, Twisty Crime Movies

December 10, 2012

I don’t care much for your basic, straight-drama crime movie, but throw in a little dark humor, a twisty plot and a snappy script, and I’m there! Here are four Instant Videos that fit the bill. All four of these films feature small-time crooks who suddenly find themselves FAR out of their depth and in the sights of much bigger, scarier career criminals, all four are thoroughly entertaining—though they may have flown a bit under your radar when first released in theaters—, and all four are available to rent for $2.99 or less. Average Amazon review ratings are listed in the summaries below, but personally, I’d give all of these 5/5 stars.

The Bank Job (R, 4/5 stars, $1.99 to rent and $9.99 to buy)

Jason Statham and Saffron Burrows star in this bank heist movie that’s based on a true story. IMDB describes the plot like this:

Terry Leather (Statham) was a small-time car dealer who was trying to leave his shady past behind and start a family…Martine Love (Burrows) is a beautiful model from Terry’s old neighborhood who knows that her former neighbor is no angel. When Martine proposes a foolproof plan to rob a Baker Street bank, Terry recognizes the danger but realizes this may be the opportunity of a lifetime…the resourceful band of thieves burrows its way into a safe-deposit vault at the Lloyds Bank in Marylebone…But while the crew did know that the safe-deposit boxes contained millions in riches, they didn’t realize that they also contained secrets that implicated everyone from London’s most notorious underworld gangsters to powerful government figures, and even the Royal Family.

Statham is excellent here, getting to flex not only his considerable action hero muscles, but showing his acting chops as well. He’s playing a man who wants so badly to do right by his wife and daughters, yet can’t seem to help himself from doing all the wrong things. Saffron Burrows crackles as the streetwise, tough-as-nails beauty with a secret agenda, revealing both a deep intelligence and vulnerability behind her glossy veneer of control. There’s plenty of action sprinkled with unexpected moments of comedy here, and the fact that this film is based on a real-life crime mystery only adds to its appeal. This story of mishaps, criminal bumblers backed into surprising corners, and people in high places with much to hide will leave you wondering if the screenwriter may have stumbled across the truth.

RocknRolla (R, 4/5 stars, $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to buy)

Guy Ritchie returns to his cinematic stomping grounds in this tale of less experienced, but very ambitious and increasingly desperate, criminals attempting to double-cross the mob. From IMDB:

Lenny Cole (Tom Wilkinson), a London mob boss, puts the bite on all local real estate transactions. For substantial fees, he’s helping Uri Omovich, a Russian developer. As a sign of good faith, Omovich loans Cole a valuable painting, promptly stolen off Cole’s wall. While Cole’s men, led by the dependable Archie, look for the canvas, three local petty criminals, the Wild Bunch [including One Two, played by Gerard Butler], steal money from the Russian using inside information from his accountant, the lovely Stella (Thandie Newton). As the bullets start to fly and the double crosses multiply, there’s no telling who will walk away with the fortune after the gun smoke has cleared.

This is much like Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, in that it mixes very believable real-life inconveniences and screw ups with complex crimes to funny, but entirely believable effect. Newton’s Stella thinks she’s got Gerard’s One-Two under her thumb, but once the wildcard character of washed-up, drugged-out rocker Johnny Quid enters the fray, the scheme and men she thought were well in hand get out of control very quickly. Maybe One-Two isn’t the sap she thought he was, and maybe she was unwise to think she could ever get away with cheating the Russian mob.

Boondock Saints (R, 4/5 stars, $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to buy)

When the Irish MacManus brothers unintentionally cross, and kill, some high-profile mobsters, the frightened citizenry of Boston hails them as heroes. As friends of the slain mafiosos follow the trail to the brothers, killing all the way, the MacManuses decide to avenge the killings rather than flee. The brothers come to see this as a holy mission from God, hence the title of the film. Meanwhile, brilliant FBI agent Paul Smecker is just a few paces behind, trying to piece together what’s happening and why. Since the MacManus brothers aren’t your typical criminals with your typical motives, none of Smecker’s prior experience or training to seems to apply to crime scenes that appear to be totally without rhyme or reason.

Norman Reedus and  Sean Patrick Flanery are excellent as the MacManus brothers, alternating between fierce loyalty to one another and scrapping with each other over minor insults, and Willem Defoe is not to be missed as Paul Smecker. Smecker is very matter-of-factly gay and it’s hilarious to see him turn the gay stereotypes on their head and quickly cut the legs out from anyone who tries to belittle or mock him for being such. He’s obviously the smartest guy in the room or on the street when the cops and FBI are together, and as he pursues the bloody footprints of the MacManuses he gradually comes to respect and admire them, resulting in a crisis of conscience.

Smokin’ Aces (R, 3.5/5 stars, $2.99 to rent and $9.99 to buy)

Jeremy Piven plays the drugged-out, has-been magician Buddy “Aces” Israel, a second-rate Vegas magician who’s agreed to turn State’s evidence against Vegas mob kingpin Primo Sparazza. Notified of this by his network of spies and plants in law enforcement, Sparazza quickly puts a bounty on Israel’s head. The FBI sees an opportunity to bag Sparazza himself, so they set Israel up in a Tahoe hotel room that Israel has been led to believe is an impenetrable safe house. Meanwhile, every hired killer in the vicinity descends on the hotel, intent on killing Israel and collecting the huge bounty from Sparazza.

While Israel slowly unravels in his luxury hotel room prison, contract killers duke it out with one another, the cops and the FBI. Who will get to Israel first?

This film has a great cast, including Ryan Reynolds, Ben Affleck, Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Peter Berg, and surprisingly, musicians Common and Alicia Keys, both of whom are very believable in their roles.


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