A heist, a comedy of bluntest errors and an essay on the woeful realities of collective fraternal fantasy rolled into one; like most other triune creatures, American Animals is leaden-footed and graceless. With each head pulling in opposing directions, Cerberus’ inarticulate limbs are left splayed upon the floor, nonthreatening and aimed in every direction, but one which could be considered vaguely interesting or insightful.
Formulaic to a fault, even the soundtrack withers in a marriage of jarring literal references to the events of the film, where every song is just as anticipated and all-American as to be immediately forgettable. Alas, even Evan Peters’ uniform brand of intensity seems diffuse and confused. His ordinary handsomeness unable to save him this time, he languishes in tedious dialogue and is at last exposed as something of a one-trick pony.
Set to the pace of true-crime re-enactment, the film features cutaways to the real culprits who offer their contrasting summaries of events. As they unfold, the film rewinds to retell each different account as described; in a move from director Bart Layton which feels stunningly unoriginal. Further, the real-life characters of Warren Lipka and Spencer Reinhart appear so coached and with such unnatural inflection that their presence merely serves to shatter the flow of the film – unveiling the whole project as totally contrived. Lipka stares particularly dumbly down the camera’s lens, grinning with vacancy, apparently delighting in his own inability to articulate his motivation behind his commitment to the crime. Loudly devoid of any capacity for self-reflection, he maintains a vagueness which is supposed to allude to something all too conveniently elemental and unspecified. Needless to say, two hours punctuated by little else but his smug nebulousness and implied carnality wears thin as acetone – with any sense of patience for the characters evaporating as such.
Having swallowed the ignorance of the would-be thieves fairly early on, one is dragged through unnecessary examples of taxing idiocy and dialogue without chemistry, until, totally unengaged, one wonders whether there’s any deliberate art in the film being almost perfectly as underwhelming and soulless as the featured robbery – until, that is, one decides not. Sedate yet rushed; laborious yet fruitless, dense yet vapid; American Animals is the bloodless retelling of four young men who successfully taser an elderly, but irritatingly virtuous, librarian into urinary incontinence in an attempt to steal a very large book which is too heavy to be carried down the stairs.
Image: Foxy59 via Wikipedia Commons.