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Stander violates his wife's personal
space.

Stander
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Stander.  Quick!  Is it a fruit?  A vegetable?  Slang for the act of standing?  Someone that doesn't like to sit?  The last name of the title character in a Sundance Film Festival favorite that makes me wonder if everybody at the festival is a little loopy on lack of sleep, too many movies and gallons of complimentary booze?  If you went with Sundance, give yourself a gold star! 

Stander is the true story of Andre Stander (Thomas Jane), a white South African Police Captain that alleviates the guilt of killing a black man during the apartheid by putting on silly costumes and robbing banks.  During a brief stint in jail, Andre meets up with Allan Heyl (David Patrick O'Hara) and Lee McCall (Dexter Fletcher) and the trio form the "Stander gang."  The group becomes famous in South Africa for wearing silly costumes and robbing banks (if it ain't broke...). 

After an interesting enough opening that looked like the film was going to focus more upon the black African's call for Nelson Mandela to lead South Africa out of apartheid and the white Africans in power struggling to maintain the status-quo, Stander becomes desperately repetitive and painfully dull.  After a riot scene where Andre Stander kills an unarmed black man, the movie immediately loses interest in the theme of racism and police brutality and becomes a secondhand Bonnie and Clyde.   

Behind its art-house trappings (IE - grainy film stock), Stander is about as relevant as Ocean's Eleven.  It occasionally reminds us of how important it is through spurts of dialogue where the lead character, who's an ex-cop, espouses over how crooked the system is.  These brief interludes are where the film is at its best, but screenwriter Bima Stagg and director Brownen Hughes are more concerned with putting their lead characters in funny disguises and finding "witty" songs to accompany the action. 

The first time Andre Stander robs a bank, it's entertaining.  Thomas Jane does an excellent job with the character and its fun to see the high Andre gets from going against the system he's a part of.  The initial robbery is so different from the beginning 20 minutes of the film; it's jolting when it happens.  It also indicates that Andre Stander is stealing not for himself, but to pay back those oppressed by the system he works for.

Where will the filmmakers take us next?  Will this become a Robin Hood morality tale?  Sadly, the movie drops the "steal from the rich, give to the poor angle," gets stuck in neutral and keeps taking us back to the same fucking place ... the bank.  After the sixth or seventh hold-up, you'll be screaming for mercy.  A more accurate title for the film would be, Not Another Bank Robbery!

What kills the film is the lack of character development.  The two other members of the Stander gang may as well be set decorations.  Andre's wife, Bekkie Stander (Deborah Unger), is virtually ignored.  The movie shows promise by beginning with the Stander & Stander wedding.  The couple had apparently been divorced and was now getting remarried.  The film only spends a few minutes with them and never explores the couple's unique relationship. 

Bekkie Stander's real life story was as exciting as her husband's, in a more intimate way.  But the people working this film out were thinking about profit margins, not intimate stories of love and heartache.  Characters other than Andre Stander are as essential to the story as the Afghanis were to John Rambo in Rambo III.  They're there for exposition purposes and to move the story along. 

Stander, unlike Rambo III, is based on a true story.  The characters in the film were flesh and blood humans.  Why not remove a robbery or two and instead give us some insight into the people surrounding Andre?  Why not use this intriguing true story to create an intriguing movie?  The answer to both questions most likely harkens back to the unnerving desire the people behind the film had in showing MTV-edited crimes featuring funky outfits and clever songs. 

The screenplay, editing and directing for this film are as Hollywood as they come.  There's nothing wrong with a "thinking man's" twist on a Hollywood film (see nearly everything by Quentin Tarantino), but does anyone want to see an art-house take on Jerry Bruckheimer's vast body of theatrical crap?  I suspect the filmmakers thought more of creating a "surprise hit" than they ever did in surprising the audience with fleshed-out characters and an adventurous movie.  Because of that, the film bores. 

A fellow critic told me that, by the middle of the movie, she had her eyes on her watch as often as she did on the screen.  I held out hope that the film would somehow get better.  It started out promising enough that I thought it couldn't end up a total wash.  The promise was never fulfilled and the movie left me feeling exhausted, rather than exhilarated.  I'd recommend wearing a watch to this one.  The second hand going around in a predictable circle would be a nice diversion from watching a director doing the same thing.

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

On a scale of 1-10?

3

What does this rating mean?  Everyone rates things differently.  Your "5" could be my "7," or vice-versa.  Find out what MY rating means by clicking here

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