It takes a while for first-time writer-director Brian Crano to show the caring storyteller behind the glib jokester in "A Bag of Hammers." At first his thin, neatly folded, paper-airplane of a movie threatens to nose dive into tweeville as it depicts the carefree lives of best-bud scam artists Alan (Jake Sandvig, who co-wrote the screenplay) and Ben (Jason Ritter), who steal cars at funerals by operating as fake valets.
The forced charm grates — cutesy valet outfits, jerky banter, teasing Alan's waitress sister (Rebecca Hall) at her job — until the pair rent the extra bungalow on their lot to a stressed single mother (Carrie Preston, coiled and powerful, and the best thing here) and her neglected 12-year-old son (Chandler Canterbury). Then a drama of adult responsibility kicks in, amplified by a sudden tragedy that reminds the guys of their own broken-home upbringing and spurs them to grow up.
But it's too little, too late for Crano's Wes Anderson-inflected innocence-disrupted project, especially as he tries to sell moments like a mopey Ben giving his money to a homeless woman and wrapping her in a bear hug, and gags about awkward guardianship that play like sitcom writers' room rejects.
"A Bag of Hammers." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.