2003, PG-13, 89 min. Directed by Gavin Grazer. Starring Alicia Silverstone, Rachael Leigh Cook, Woody Harrelson, Paulo Costanzo, John Cleese, Joshua Leonard, David Krumholtz, Jeffrey Tambor, Marcus Thomas, Ivan Sergei.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 1, 2003
The sleepy Desert Savings Bank is about to be hit – from here to Sunday and then some. Scorched is a new bank-heist movie cast in the comic tradition of earlier films like Happy, Texas and Fun With Dick and Jane, movies in which the robbers all have their reasons and moral justifications but lack the skills and larcenous fortitude to enact their deeds with a professional's sense of detachment and finesse. The comedy in Scorched is broad: The bad guys are gleefully over-the-top (just imagine John Cleese, and you know what I mean) and the good guys (aka bank robbers) are all marginal members of society whose actions are meant to settle a score or stimulate personal growth. Following a jaunty opening-credit sequence during which the actors' names are creatively worked into road signs and such, we are introduced to the main characters. There's Sheila (Silverstone), the fed-up girlfriend of smarmy bank manager Rick (Leonard), who wants to get back at him for all the years of leading her on. Disgruntled bank teller Stu (Costanzo), however, is mostly angry with himself for having settled for this dead-end job and for lacking the courage to act on his fantasy of "borrowing" $250,000 for the weekend and making a run to Vegas to double the money. Ponytailed head teller Woods (Harrelson) is bent on exacting personal revenge against local mogul Charles Merchant (Cleese), who's made a fortune selling his get-rich-quick videotapes to foregone losers and other dupes. But Woods' beef with Merchant is not about money but rather Woods' pet duck George, who was orphaned by Merchant's hunting rifle. Woods intends to rob all the unholy cash Merchant stashes in his safety deposit box. Sheila, Stu, and Woods, unbeknownst to one another, all carry through with their plans on the same weekend, and one of the film's greatest delights lies in watching this oblivious pas de trois in action. Further complicating matters is a household that contains Dungeons & Dragons role-player Shmally (Cook), who morphs into a full-regaliaed warrior princess when angry – and she, too, is angry with Merchant because she's one of the dupes who bought his tapes, to no avail. One of Shmally's housemates is Doleman (Thomas), whose choice to end his slacker days and start working proves most timely when he shows up at the bank the Monday morning following the robberies. Scorched begins its heist story not at the beginning, but instead at the end. Bereft of his job before it even began, Doleman exits the bank on Monday morning and strips off his tie much the same cryptic way Out of Sight begins with Clooney leaving the bank and trashing his neckwear – Scorched flashes back to the previous Friday and then allows the events to unfold. The cast members all have fun with their characters, and director Grazer (brother of top Hollywood producer and Imagine partner Brian Grazer) demonstrates his agility in keeping all these various story threads comfortably entwined. The comedy (by screenwriter Joe Wein) is unfortunately hit and miss, but the actors often manage to eke out humor from the barest of ideas. Although Scorched is no thigh-slapper, its comedy is light and amiable, and as the film is opening in only four cities (New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Austin) this Friday, Austin moviegoers have a better-than-normal opportunity to partake in the movie's future.