As sure as a story takes place in Anytown, U.S.A., during Anytime, A.D., there live a boy and a girl who share a dream that starts and stops with “getting out of this town.” So it goes with Sam and Kate.
Sam (Luke Mitchell) was the all-American poster boy in high school, the star quarterback with a college scholarship and beautiful cheerleader girlfriend, and a big deal in his small town. Three years later he’s still with Kate (Leven Rambin)—still beautiful, now pregnant—but his football and college career has been cut short thanks to a broken ankle his first game out. He’d been punching the clock as a factory worker to pay the bills and build a nest egg for the baby on the way, but took a gig as a minor-league drug dealer after he was laid off. When Sam and his two cohorts, friend Owen (Zane Holtz) and brother Mike (Jason Ritter), flush their first high-stakes assignment down the toilet, they are given 48 hours to come up with thousands of dollars and decide to rob a bank.
This sets the stage for 7 Minutes, writer-director Jay Martin’s feature debut. The film’s official poster—three masked men strutting against a black and red backdrop beneath a giant “7” shaped like a pistol—suggest Martin’s first film is a heist movie less Lock, Stock meets All the Right Moves and more Reservoir Dogs, an effect surely not lost on its designers and hardly the film’s only Tarantino nod.
The whole of 7 Minutes takes place inside the bank and unfolds over nonlinear flashbacks of three storylines. Sam, Mike and Owen are introduced with big Tarantino-ish title cards filling the frame, though Sam’s is clearly the guiding narrative. The opening scene barges through the screen with guns blazing, pace fast and tempers hot, but as the film wanders around in its own backyard, its attempt to rekindle that initial spark proves unsuccessful. Investment in the outcome of the film’s real-time action shifts to the minutes spent outside the titular 7—the time allotted to get in, get out, and get on with their lives—to where jumping back to the present scene of the crime starts to feel like a formality.
The cast all put in decent-to-great performances. Though Rambin’s film career has only started to bud, marked by her role as Glimmer in The Hunger Games, her TV credentials span nearly a decade, the latest as Ani Bezzerides’ (Rachel McAdams) sister, Athena, on this season of True Detective. Her Kate meets all criteria for the small-town high school sweetheart trope: blonde cheerleader, dates the quarterback, cries when he comes home late, is a waitress, is pregnant—the trappings new directors would do well to avoid—but Leven provides both the film’s strongest character and its strongest performance.
For his part Mitchell complements his ensemble with a calm but engaging demeanor that allows room for Owen’s and Mike’s louder and more insistent personalities, like a stable goat for skittish thoroughbreds. But he doesn’t command authority or demonstrate the leadership skills he apparently left behind on the football field, leaving our hero crippled in more than just his ankle. Sam is supposed to have our ears, but a protag who blends in more than he stands out and has no real character arc is hard to hear over the gunshots.
Kris Kristofferson makes an appearance as Owen’s dad, himself a retired career criminal, whose sole purpose in the film is to warn his son, “Don’t go in with anyone who has more to lose than you do, and don’t get caught,” a clear stepchild to words spoken by Robert De Niro in Heat, “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” (Neither is as nuanced as the advice fellow film criminal patriarch Jack Nicholson gives in the The Departed, “You can’t trust a guy who acts like he’s got nothing to lose.”)
Stock villain Tuckey, played by a hulking Kevin Gage, long a go-to character actor when duty calls for the fear of God in human form, catches word of the boys’ naïve and half-baked plan. He assumes, correctly, he won’t have trouble negotiating his involvement. Gage, as it happens, starred alongside De Niro in Heat as Waingro, also an evil murdering slime bucket, whose storyline could have easily been the prologue to Tuckey’s had he not met his demise 20 years ago.
Martin’s attention to visuals comes from his years as a storyboarder and music video director (Death Cab for Cutie, Nas, Colbie Caillat). He knows his strengths, and his derivative debut is crafted with the methodical finesse and sophisticated composition of someone who prays at the style altars of Derek Cianfrance and Cary Fukunaga. Though the film lacks heart—and Martin’s own voice—he does a fine job testing his directorial chops by emulating his predecessors. 7 Minutes is a slick ride through a sexy cultural wasteland, but before the credits roll you know it won’t cross your mind again.
Director: Jay Martin
Writer: Jay Martin
Starring: Luke Mitchell, Jason Ritter, Zane Holtz, Leven Rambin, Kevin Gage, Kris Kristofferson
Release Date: June 26, 2016