By Jim Slotek
The cartoonish Good Time – a pinball series of random criminal misadventures - owes as much to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours as it clearly does to the “stupid crook” comic template of Quentin Tarantino and the Coens.
Which is not to put Good Time in the league of any of the above. But directors Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie manage tell an energetic, fast-moving, violent, utterly preposterous story that shows they’ve learned certain basic lessons well.
It carries no message and means only to keep your attention, even if it has to hit you squarely in the head occasionally with a curveball to do it.
An homage to a New York that is more a state of mind than something you’d encounter as a tourist, Good Time introduces us, first and last, to Nick Nikas (Benny Safdie), a developmentally-challenged brute of a man who ends up being the only character we even partially get to know (even though he’s only in a couple of scenes).
Though he doesn’t share his brother’s condition, it would be stretching it to call Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson, channelling, I think, Ray Liotta) “the brains of the operation.” After ascertaining Nick’s level of intelligence in a psychiatric-test scene, the movie shows him being dragged along by Connie on one of the dumber bank robberies ever put to screen.
Giving new meaning to the phrase “dumb luck,” the botched robbery sees only Nick captured (and hospitalized), with Connie on the run devoting every available brain cell to cutting him loose.
We go from bail-bonds shenanigans (futilely assisted by Connie’s junkie girlfriend Corey (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to outright abduction. Along the way there’s a fairly major case of mistaken identity, the introduction of a stoned teenage girl (Taliah Webster) who’s literally along for the ride, and a just-released convict (Buddy Duress), another brainiac who’s managed in his own first 24-hours of release to get high on acid, arrested and seriously injured.
Beyond the fact that he’s loyal to his brother beyond a fault, what we do learn about Connie is that he has an almost-feral intelligence in the part of his brain that should have a normal one. Everything he does on this one night goes spectacularly wrong, and he manages each time to improvise an equally-unwise Plan B, C and D in an instant.
This impulsivity leads the plot all over the place, including a cheesy dinosaur theme park where loot from another robbery is supposedly stashed and a high-end apartment where a last-chance drug-deal is hatched.
The busy-ness of this frantic affair gets overwhelming after a while, and the laughs of surprise dwindle. You start to wonder if there was so much a script per se as a bunch of twists invented on the fly (which basically is the plot of the movie).
The New York-iness of it all is well shot, and there’s no doubt about the strength of the cast – particularly Pattinson, whose abilities are less in question these days with that vampire so far back in the rear-view mirror. His Connie is believable enough, an impulsive beast of the streets whose love for his brother is his biggest weakness.
Good Time. Directed by Benny and Josh Safdie. Starring Robert Pattinson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Taliyah Webster. Opens Friday, August 18 at the Varsity Cinema. Across Canada August 25.
Jim Slotek is a former Toronto Sun columnist, movie critic, TV critic and comedy beat reporter. He’s been a scriptwriter for the NHL Awards, Gemini Awards and documentaries, and was nominated for a Gemini Award for comedy writing on a special (the NHL Awards). Prior to the Sun, he worked at the Ottawa Citizen as an entertainment reporter.