Coin Heist (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): A small heist for saving their school

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“Coin Heist”, which has been available on Netflix since this early January, is a modest but interesting heist film with a touch of “The Breakfast Club” (1985). As a movie about a group of high school kids trying to steal a heap of coins from the US Mint, the movie surely feels cheerful at times while these smart kids prepare for their well-intentioned criminal plan step by step, but it also shows some seriousness as thoughtfully observing their personal aspects, and it mostly balances itself well between character drama and genre conventions.

The early part of the movie is about a sudden situation which turns its main characters’ world upside down. They are students of some prestigious private high school, and the opening scene shows them and other students having a field trip at a building belonging to the US Mint while accompanied with their art design teacher and the principle of the school. In the middle of this field trip, a couple of police officers suddenly come upon them, and everyone is perplexed as the principal is promptly arrested in front of them.

It is soon revealed that the principal is arrested for embezzling no less than 10 million dollar from the school fund, and the resulting financial crisis leads to lots of changes inside the school. While almost all of student activities outside their classes are discarded, the upcoming prom party is also going to be downsized in a considerable degree, and Dakota (Sasha Pieterse) has to tell this bad news to her fellow students as the student president of the school, even though she knows well that they are not going to be pleased about that.

In case of Jason (Alex Saxon), things are more awkward for him mainly because he is the son of the principle. While his reputation in the school has not been very good from the beginning, he feels embarrassed especially after hearing that his father comes to accept plea bargain, and every day in his school painfully reminds him of the undeniable damage caused by his father’s criminal deed.

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When Alice (Alexis G. Zall), a clever hacker girl in the school, suggests to him a rather risky heist plan for saving the school from possible bankruptcy, Jason rejects it at first, but he comes to believe that this can be a nice solution for him as well as many other students in the school. Sure, he and Alice will definitely go to jail for that if they are not very careful, but they really want to save their school, and they are willing to take the risk for that.

Their target is none other than that building of the US Mint, and the plan is pretty simple on the surface. After Alice does some hacking job on the surveillance system in the building, they will sneak into the building for producing a heap of faulty coins which can be sold at a high price as collectible items, and all they will have to do after getting out of the building successfully with those faulty coins is selling them as soon as possible for getting enough money for their school.

As they embark on their plan which still needs to be polished further, Alice and Jason are joined by two other students. Feeling suffocated by how she always presents herself as a model student to others around her, Dakota agrees to help Alice and Jason when she happens to learn about their plan, and she provides considerable help when they need to prepare for several things before their planned break-in. Utilizing her usual confident attitude well, Dakota successfully disguises herself as an eager college newspaper reporter in front of an official working in their target building, and we are served with a nice sequence as she and her fellow accomplices smoothly work together while managing to evade any possible suspicion.

The fourth member of this group is an African American student named Benny (Jay Walker), who wants to be an engineer someday and surely has lots of talent for accomplishing his dream. He is initially reluctant when he is asked to provide some technical help, but then he comes to join the group after learning that his scholarship is going to be cut off, and we see him doing a skillful job for a template for faulty coins, which is the core element in their plan.

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Of course, there comes a series of setbacks during the middle part of the movie, and most of them come from the conflicts among its main characters. While Jason and Alice get closer to each other as spending time more with other, Dakota and Benny also find themselves attracted to each other, but then, as being not so sure about what they feel, they all come to confront a considerable gap among them, and that almost topples what they have managed to build up together.

While clearly reminiscent of “The Breakfast Club” and other films by John Hughes, director Emily Hagins’ screenplay, which is based on a novel by Elisa Ludwig, stumbles a bit during this rather predictable part, but its main characters and their relationships remain real and believable as before, and it surely helps that the young main cast members in the movie are engaging to watch as bringing some life and depth to their seemingly stereotype characters. As the movie eventually enters its third act, everything in the story is gathered together to generate a certain degree of suspense as demanded, and I like how it sidesteps some of its genre conventions via its rather anti-climactic finale.

“Coin Heist” is the fifth feature film directed by Hagins, a 24-year-old filmmaker who made her first feature film “Pathogen” (2006) when she was only 14 years old. I have not watched any of her previous works, but, as far as I can see from “Coin Heist”, she is a good filmmaker who knows how to interest and engage the audiences via good story and characters, and I sincerely hope that she will keep moving onto next promising steps of her career.

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