If The Breakfast Club and Ocean’s 11 were shoved into Seth Brundle’s telepods, Coin Heist is the unholy abomination that would stagger out the other end, pressing a shotgun to its malformed head and begging to be put out of its misery.
Based on the young adult novel by Elisa Ludwig, Coin Heist opens with a group of students on a field trip to the US Mint, their slack-jawed un-enthusiasm only briefly lifting when the cops show up and drag their principal away in handcuffs. It turns out he’s embezzled $10 million from the school funding, putting the very institution itself in jeopardy.
And so, hacker Alice (Alexis G. Zall), athlete Benny (Jay Walker). honor student Dakota (Sasha Pieterse) and slacker (and the embezzling principal’s son) Jason (Alex Saxon), band together to save the school. Their plan: break into the US Mint, secretly manufacture quarters with a flaw in the design and then profit from coin collectors’ desire for rare mis-pressed currency.
Once they’ve gotten these hundreds of rare coins they’ll… uh… well the characters never quite decide how they’ll convert them into the $10 million they urgently need. And anyway, is it really believable that teenagers would choose to save their high school over each of them walking away with a cool $2.5 million? Oh well, I guess their thoughts are occupied by worrying about how the heist has to take place on the same night as the Winter Formal dance. Drama!
From the ‘just the facts, ma’am’ title to the stereotypical cast of characters to the drab institutional scenery to the pedestrian direction, Coin Heist is a powerfully bland cinematic experience. This dullness is especially disappointing given that Netflix is so cash rich it’ll tolerate a bit of experimentation from directors. But writer/director Emily Hagins, a 24-year-old with a handful of productions already under her belt, sets herself a low bar and still struggles to clear it.
The film is burdened by a script that has the distinct whiff of a first draft. Vast swathes of the dialogue are occupied by clumsy exposition or paint-by-numbers romances and what’s left generally tends towards redundancy. For example, a character’s mother asks “Did you find out about the scholarship?” to which the student replies “Not yet. Soon.” The mother replies “we need to know to make a plan in case you don’t get it.” It begs the question of what exactly is stopping them from planning now? If it were isolated to a handful of exchanges I’d be nitpicking, but the film is liberally peppered with elements that a decent script doctor would immediately flag up as needing a rewrite or simply excising altogether.
The script problems are compounded by a cast that I’ll charitably assume is poorly directed rather than untalented. One potential red flag is that Jay Walker and Alexis G. Zall are Vine and YouTube personalities respectively, each with hundreds of thousands of adoring followers. If you’re making a movie targeted at teens in 2017 hiring social media stars makes sense, though you’re on thin ice when it comes to them actually acting.
Fortunately, both Walker and Zall are adequate, though not particularly striking, actors. The real low point comes with Jason Saxon’s moody protagonist, whose interpretation of moody teenage rebellion looks uncannily like he’s struggling to remember his lines. Then again, given how distinctly unmemorable they are, you can hardly blame him.
Also, breaking into the Philadelphia Mint – the largest Mint in the USA and an incredibly high-security government building – sounds like it’d make for an exciting caper. But Coin Heist is hamstrung by a lack of budget and, crucially, imagination. The film makes wandering in and out of the Mint (a rather cheap looking warehouse set) look fairly straightforward: mostly a matter of dodging incompetent security guards who somehow don’t notice the very noisy coin printing machines starting up at night.
That lack of excitement is the final blow for the film. I just about could forgive a underwritten dialogue, iffy performances and a lack of visual flair if there was a playful sense of adventure and tension as they execute their plan. But the characters are confronted by so little danger that even they look deflated by how easy it all was.
Coin Heist doesn’t even have the decency to be bad in an interesting way; the production ethos apparently being “eh, that’ll do.” And so it ends up committing the worst cinematic crime of all – being boring. Given the vast array of quality viewing options Netflix offers, something this bland is destined to vanish into the digital quagmire.
Coin Heist is like Ocean's 11 meets The Breakfast Club, but minus the charm, character and ambition.