Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 15, 2020)
Based on a true story, 2019’s Brian Banks introduces us to the title character. As a kid, Brian shows a tremendous athletic ability, and he excels as a football player.
As a teenager, Brian gets unjustly convicted of a sexual offense. This sends him to prison.
Now 27 and on parole, Brian (Aldis Hodge) lives with his mother Leomia (Sherri Shepherd) and struggles to find his way. Despite his advancing age, Brian still dreams of a career in the NFL.
Desperate to clear his name, Brian contacts Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear) of the California Innocence Project to appeal his conviction. With assistance from Brooks, Brian attempts to fight against the legal system.
Back in the 90s and 00s, Tom Shadyac directed a series of comedic hits like Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty. However, in 2007, a bad bicycle accident impaired Shadyac and inspired him to take a long sabbatical from feature filmmaking.
Other than an introspective 2010 documentary, Banks represents Shadyac’s first foray back into movies. Given his comedic background, this serious flick seems like a departure, but it doesn’t stand alone in his filmography.
After all, 1998’s hit Patch Adams mixed laughs and drama, and 2002’s Dragonfly avoided comedy entirely. Banks follows the Patch Adams path, as it gives us an earnest take on a real-life subject.
If you thought Shadyac’s time away from Hollywood changed him, Banks will quickly disavow you of that notion. Though not as painful to watch as the grating Patch Adams, this one also follows an earnest but superficial path that reeks of Shadyac’s old dumbed-down ways.
Maybe it’s too much to expect a filmmaker to really change. Shadyac embraced a particular strain of “populist” movies that emphasized broad emotions, usually a mix of laughs and heart-tugging.
With Banks, Shadyac firmly goes into the latter realm, as he shoots for an emotional tale of injustice and redemption. Unfortunately, the man once referred to as “Shady-hack” shows no signs that he matured over his sabbatical, as Banks gives us just another hackneyed effort from the director.
Expect every cheap genre cliché in the book to emerge here. Shadyac never allows the story to play out in an honest, natural manner, as he embraces a mix of artificial stabs at emotion.
This seems wholly unnecessary. The facts of the matter seem more than sufficient to deliver a compelling drama, so why assault the viewer with a never-ending barrage of tacky, contrived moments?
Because that’s what Shadyac does, I guess. He can’t resist the kind of lame grandstanding that made Patch Adams such a chore.
In addition, Banks suffers from poor construction. The film attempts to jump around various eras, but it fails to find a groove in that regard, so it becomes a muddled mess.
All of this feels like a shame, as a better director could’ve created a compelling drama. In Tom Shadyac’s hands, though, Banks ends up as trite and maudlin.