It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Pups" looks ragged and slammed-together, but that's part of its appeal; the film has a wildness that more care would have killed. It's about a bank robbery and hostage crisis involving a 13-year-old and his girlfriend. Why this bank? "It was on the way to school." The kids, named Stevie and Rocky, are played by Cameron Van Hoy and Mischa Barton in two of the most natural and freed performances I have seen by actors of any age. There is an unhinged quality about Van Hoy's acting; he waves his mother's loaded gun while ordering around the adults he's found in the bank, and although we know his character got his lines by watching TV, his energy level is awesome. He pumps out words and postures, flailing his arms, jazzed by the experience, implying a whole childhood in the way he seizes this power.
Van Hoy is a newcomer. Barton, who plays his girlfriend, has a lot of professional experience, but must never have found a role like this before. You can sense her exhilaration as she behaves the way a 13-year-old girl would behave--not dampened down by a conventional screenplay. Often Van Hoy and Barton waltz through long takes, working without the net of editing.
The movie is persuasive in the way it shows the steps leading to their absurd decision to rob a bank. Stevie begins by videotaping a fake suicide message, shouting "final warnings" to a mother who, we learn, is out of town on business. Then he finds her loaded gun. His girlfriend Rocky comes over, he accidentally fires the gun, they are impressed and then they head for school--at one point interrupting the trip to lie down in the street. The street scene isn't played for phony suspense; a guy in an SUV drives by and tells them that they're jerks.
Stevie has brought along the gun. On an impulse, he walks into a bank and announces a stickup. Rocky tells him he's crazy, but eventually she joins him (what's a girlfriend for?). We meet some of the staff and customers, including an angry guy in a wheelchair (Adam Ferrar) who eggs them on; a bank manager (David Allen Graf) who can't believe this is happening to him, and a customer (Darling Narita) who sneaks puffs on a joint.