Capsule reviews for Dec. 1

A Bad Idea Gone Wrong

The title might be a little harsh as a critique of this low-budget heist comedy, because the concept itself is fairly clever, certainly outweighing the uneven execution. It follows bumbling small-time burglars Marlon (Matt Jones) and Leo (Will Rogers), who break into an unoccupied house for a quick robbery, then become trapped after they trip the alarm system. Then they find another intruder (Eleanore Pienta), who awakens with possible ulterior motives of her own. The screenplay by rookie director Jason Headley provides some scattered big laughs, although it stumbles when trying to generate sympathy for these would-be criminal masterminds who are both morally and intellectually bankrupt. (Not rated, 85 minutes).


Gangster Land

Although it ambitiously re-creates Prohibition-era Chicago on a shoestring budget, such attempts at authenticity don’t extend throughout this thriller about the tension leading up to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Specifically, it follows underground boxer Jack (Sean Faris) as he joins the Italian mafia and eventually becomes the right-hand man to Al Capone (Milo Gibson) during notoriously violent clashes with Irish gangsters, while also meeting his eventual wife (Jamie-Lynn Sigler). However well-intentioned it might be, the script is woefully overburdened with genre clichés and historical embellishments while treading familiar territory that’s been done much better elsewhere, from The Untouchables to “Boardwalk Empire.” (Not rated, 88 minutes).


Kepler’s Dream

This earnest coming-of-age drama takes its title from the name of a 17th century astronomer, but its predictable story of precocious children and fractured families suffers from 21st century clichés. It centers on Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas), an 11-year-old from a big city who spends the summer with her old-fashioned grandmother (Holland Taylor) on a New Mexico ranch while her mother (Kelly Lynch) undergoes cancer treatment. While there, the youngster adapts and finds a possible path toward connecting with her estranged father (Sean Patrick Flanery). The film is heartfelt and modestly charming, yet the flat characters and contrived screenplay don’t offer much incentive for emotional investment. (Not rated, 87 minutes).


The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Solid performances can’t rescue a subpar screenplay in this familiar tale of suburban dysfunction that follows a family’s disintegration after it relocates to an upscale neighborhood in seaside California. While the emotionally vulnerable mother (Jennifer Garner) finds her marriage crumbling, twin siblings Medina (Maika Monroe) and Jim (Cody Fern) begin a downward spiral after struggling to mesh with their privileged classmates and integrate into the local surfing culture. Some mildly provocative concepts about affluence and acceptance transcend the setting, yet the feature debut of sibling directors Brendan and Emmett Malloy strains credibility while detouring into heavy-handed melodrama, and doesn’t provide many avenues for audience sympathy. (Rated R, 104 minutes).


24 Hours to Live

If nothing else, give this ridiculous high-adrenaline thriller credit for jamming as many genre clichés into a single feature as possible. It concerns an ex-CIA assassin (Ethan Hawke) who puts off retirement for a lucrative assignment to kill an informant in South Africa, but when the plan goes awry, he’s forced to partner with a female operative (Qing Xu) to plot revenge against a former partner (Paul Anderson). The action sequences are capably staged, but the plot twists become progressively dumber as the film plows through a narrative checklist that includes car chases, shootouts, a medical lab, a stolen memory card, and ticking clock. (Rated R, 93 minutes).