In his introduction to his second feature film, Crazy & Thief, director Cory McAbee referred to his film as some kind of a love letter to audiences but it is unclear what audience he was referring to, because it was not the audience in attendance at the LA Film Festival screening. Perhaps he was referring to his immediate family, the only audience likely to be engaged in this amateurish affair.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around two very young children, Yaya aka Crazy (Willa Vy McAbee) and Johnny aka Thief (John Huck McAbee). You guessed it, the very young real life children of the director. After creating their own star map (or treasure map), Crazy and Thief set out to follow the various stars to see where they lead them.
There is little narrative cohesion in this dull and over simplistic tale featuring two children, one of whom, the cutesy John Huck’s Thief, can barely talk intelligently despite the interesting idea that once existed in the fragmented imagination of the film’s director. Divided into chapters, the film is like a road movie with more bumps than smooth tracks. There is next to no character development and the idea of casting your film with your own children in the hope of making it more relatable to families doesn’t gel. The two children are sweet but sweetness does not equal movie likability and they don’t possess that especially John Huck McAbee who comes across as simply annoying.
Known more as a music artist than filmmaker, McAbee’s greatest strength is his use of music in order to accentuate mood and narrative, and the film may well have succeeded had he used more music to define his thinly created characters. The issue of concern is what does one see as the purpose of cinema. If the point is to communicate with a broad audience then attention to script and character development, as well as casting, need to be properly explored. Audiences deserve to be drawn into a movie and Crazy & Thief simply fails to emotionally grab attention. It is as if the filmmaker asked his kids to do or say something and hope the camera loves them enough to forget that there is nothing there. One has no idea who these children are and there are no clues in this simplistic and haphazard script.
The film is loosely and unevenly directed and is one that redefines independent cinema and not in a good way. The sad truth is, it is a glorified home movie that should have remained at home and not in the public arena. Chances of any kind of commercial release are slim to none, given its increasingly negative response at the Los Angeles Film Festival. But at least the director’s kids had a good time, at our expense.