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  How to Deter a Robber Combat Christmas Crime
Year: 2020
Director: Maria Bissell
Stars: Vanessa Marano, Benjamin Papac, Chris Mulkey, Abbie Cobb, Sonny Valicenti, Gabrielle Carteris, Jonah Ray, Nikki Crawford, Leah Lewis, Arnold Y. Kim, Deanna Rooney
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Christmas time is here again, but for some the festive season may not be so jolly when assholes break into their homes and steal their belongings and presents. In this small town, this is precisely what is happening, though so far, the robbers have struck in houses where the occupants are away for the holidays, though for eighteen-year-old Madison Williams (Vanessa Marano) she is oblivious to the danger and is currently applying herself to her college entrance essay. She is very pleased with herself, as another thing she is oblivious about is how tone deaf her writing is, but soon she will receive a wakeup call...

A Christmassy wakeup call, that was, in this, the debut from director Maria Bissell after a number of short efforts. It was not, as you may suspect from the premise, a horror movie, Home Alone was far more gruesome than this was, but it was a comedy, and a bright, cheeky one at that as it joined the unofficial Yuletide canon of movies that would provide entertainment away from the played to death favourites that were in heavy rotation every December. It was also a better bet than the billions of seasonal TV movies that peppered the schedules and enticed the unwary who could not be arsed to find the remote control.

Not that you needed to watch How to Deter a Robber at the season of goodwill, as there was enough here non-Christmas specific, though winter-based, to amuse in a Fargo lite sort of manner. Bissell did not seem to be emulating the Coen Brothers' classic consciously, but you could at least envisage this as the pilot for another season of the Fargo television series, it contained that sort of tone of quippy, character comedy and not so delicate violence. But, no, not a horror movie, as the writer and director had taken a feminine touch to the material that showed a genuine empathy for even the asshole robbers, or one of them anyway.

That did not mean she went soft on her characters, mind you, after all, Maddie needed to be taught a life lesson which brings in a shading of class war between her and the leader of the thieves, Patrick (Sonny Valicenti), though not so much that it became the main theme nor took over from the jokes and thriller games the film was playing. Maddie and her high school sweetheart Jimmy (Benjamin Papac) are on the cusp of adulthood and this night of crisis they experience will separate their childhood from what they progress to, if indeed they do progress. Previously Christmas means to Maddie a chance to chill with a drinking game in front of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, what her teen self thought was grown-up.

But her Uncle Andy (Chris Mulkey, not playing the bad guy for a change and being disarmingly normal) who she has roped into housesitting for their neighbours when the burglaries become apparent, exhibits a marked difference in her concept of adults and what his generation considered responsible behaviour, and one of the funniest elements is that contrast and how it comes to the fore when the three of them - Maddie, Uncle Andy and Jimmy - wind up as hostages of the criminals. It's fairly lightweight, but has a real charm thanks to a little sparkle in the dialogue and a cast who are well aware of what was expected of them; Valicenti added a nasty edge lest we thought it was getting too fluffy, but Abbie Cobb as his partner was actually a pathetic soul who has simply fallen in with the wrong crowd. A good show all round, there should be a market for laughter-inducing crime thrillers as well turned out as this one. Music by Robert Allaire (did he do the easy listening carols?).

[AVAILABLE DIGITALLY IN THE UK AND IRELAND ON AUGUST 2 2021.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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