New recipe for heist film genre: El Heist Grande review

A film about a quiche heist will never win an Oscar. That’s just the way that the Academy works. A film about a quiche heist would likewise struggle to claim an MTV movie gong. It’s simply too sophisticated for that kind of treatment.

In spite of its ridiculous plot, El Heist Grande is nowhere near as cringeworthy as some of today’s Hollywood comedic offerings. In fact, it’s actually rather good. And dare I say it, funny. First-time director/writer/producer/editor/actor/musician Darrell Hawkins may struggle with the concept of humour in real life, but El Heist Grande is a rare glimpse of his unlikely comic potential.

El Heist Grande follows the story of two friends Alec (co-producer David Farr) and Andrew (Hawkins), as they embark on a hazardous heist. After running into financial difficulties, the duo seeks help from a shifty businessman known as Stan Man (Onkar Kale). With $10,000 on offer, he assigns them the job of organising a versatile heist squad, in order to steal sixteen boxes of the finest quiche from a local seniors’ club lunch. Anyone and everyone, from an injury feigner (Grace Chandler) to a specialist in turning lights on and off (Daniel Mu), are hired for the job, which turns out to be far more complicated than originally planned.

Hawkins calls El Heist Grande a “very cheeky poke at the heist film genre,” but to label the film a parody would be doing it discredit. Denouncing the film as merely a gag reel would likewise be offensive. In terms of originality and humour, El Heist Grande is a step above films like Scary Movie or Hot Shots!. The film undoubtedly has its fair share of absurd gags, but lame jokes are negated by a surprisingly intelligent storyline. By film’s end all loose ends are tied up without the reliance on a deus ex machina, allowing even the most humourless audiences to find satisfaction in this eclectic romp.

The storyline, however, is not what captures the audience’s attention. Rather, Hawkins’ array of peculiar characters is the film’s piece de resistance. While the film’s two leading players Alec and Andrew are affable and hateable respectively, they spend the majority of the film playing a backseat role to characters such as Kale’s Stan Man. Charming and erratic, yet darkly sinister, Kale shines as the perfect antagonist. Mu’s portrayal of Daniel is equally delightful; it is hard not to adore the character’s absent-mindedness. Chandler executes her role of injury feigner with a touch of class, Zoe Dale elicits sympathy as Alec’s obedient personal assistant, while Samson (Matthew Laing) – the ‘Master of Communications’ – is full of laughs. Richard and Rebecca Farr pull off hilarious cameos, Lachlan Barclay adds acting to his list of talents (we all know he keeps one), while film critic Robert Goodridge shows the movie industry how it’s done, as a banana-munching father.

Hawkins didn’t get it all right, however, with some questionable casting moves putting a dour light on the film’s otherwise comfortable mis-en-scene. Genevieve Farr may only be an amateur, but her performance as ‘The Lockpick’ is a major disappointment. Even the nicest film critics would look down on her glaringly flawed acting; the youngster evidently did not take the film seriously at all. Filmmakers should avoid this junior Farr at all costs, unless they want their films ruined by shoddy unprofessionalism.

The decision to cast Kevin Hawkins – director Darrell’s elder brother – in the crucial role of Robert Stomp was another costly error. The more mature Hawkins brother is a culprit of overacting; his stage presence is excessively awkward and is, at times, unwatchable. Inside reports reveal that Hawkins was also a burden on set, constantly distracting the actors with unengaging football dribble and obscure anecdotes about Africa.

These two unworthy performances, however, are thankfully not dreadful enough to ruin the film. An engaging music score washes away all negativity from viewer’s minds. Disregarding the occasional offering from Miller, the soundtrack to El Heist Grande adds an extra element of curiosity to an already intriguing film. Laing’s classical ensemble pieces are Hitchcock-esque, while Barclay and Steve Llewellyn’s funky saxophone-led number could easily find its way onto the soundtrack of any mainstream quiche heist film. The former’s band Toehider and Blue Notion’s Shelley Dunlop likewise provide the perfect accompaniment to a film that relies heavily on suspense, wicked pace and mystery.

Despite its occasional glitches, El Heist Grande is impressive, particularly for a debut film. The senior Hawkins excels as director and writer, making this film worth every bit of its $500 budget. More importantly, though, El Heist Grande is easily the best quiche heist film since the 2002 Alicia Quiche music documentary.

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