The young actors playing activist burglars in “Echo Boomers” must have had a blast making this movie. You get to smash up houses in spectacular fashion time and again, AND you get to share scenes with the great Michael Shannon doing his Michael Shannon burning intensity thing, and if that’s not a master class in acting then I just don’t know.
Set in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs but filmed mostly in Salt Lake City (wait, what) save for a few days of pickup shots filmed in the city last March, “Echo Boomers” is “a true story, if you believe in such things,” says the title card, though I don’t remember hearing about a group of recent college grads pulling off dozens of robberies of million-dollar homes in 2013, the year the movie is set.
After we see a montage of news reports and talk show discussions about how millennials, aka Echo Boomers, are struggling to find work and make a place in this world, we see Patrick Schwarzenegger’s Lance on the phone in prison, talking to Lesley Ann Warren’s journalist (the credits identify her only as “Author”), who wants to give Lance the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Guess that spoils any questions about where this story will wind up, eh?
Flashback to a few months earlier, with Lance arriving in Chicago at the invitation of his cousin Jack (Gilles Geary), who has promised Lance a job “in acquisitions.” It’s been rough sledding for Lance, who has been trying to land a job in the art world ever since graduating from college but has hit nothing but dead ends, so he’s eager to take the gig, no questions asked. Next thing we know, Lance is given a cool skeleton mask and a pair of gloves and is literally along for the ride as a gang of millennials breaks into a posh home, takes everything of value and sprays the wall with graffiti making them sound like modern-day Robin Hoods.
Maybe you should have asked a few questions after all, Lance.
We learn the gang was founded by Alex Pettyfer’s Ellis and Hayley Law’s Allie, who started robbing homes as some sort of political statement about the effed-up world their parents have left them, but now seem to be in it mostly for the money and the instant gratification they pursue in the form of drinks and drugs and more drinks and more drugs (not to mention the highs they experience every time they pull off another job). Everyone in the group has a back story explaining why they indulge in a particular form of vandalism each time out; for example, one of them had a horrible childhood and always seeks out family photos to smash and destroy. Still, it’s tough to feel empathy for this bunch, most of whom come across as entitled little jerks who think the world owes them something and have decided they’ll take what they want without earning it. Even the initially likable Lance becomes something of a chest-thumping d-bag.
Still, we stay involved with “Echo Boomers,” thanks to the excellent performances, the eye-popping visuals and the promise of another scene involving Michael Shannon’s Mel, who runs a legitimate business but has a lucrative side gig in providing the gang with the names and addresses of wealthy Chicagoans and suburbanites with seven-figure homes loaded with material goods.
Director Seth Savoy (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kevin Bernhardt and Jason Miller) displays real talent and infuses “Echo Boomers” with a kinetic flash that suits the material. It would be an upset to learn Savoy isn’t a huge fan of the works of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino, and such films as “The Town” and “Heat.” This is a nifty little gem in the heist genre, with the familiar message about the perils of greed and always wanting more and more and even more. The Echo Boomers don’t know when to stop, and we know where that will land them.
The Chicago premiere of “Echo Boomers” begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Chi-Town Movies drive-in, 2343 S. Throop St. Tickets: eventbrite.com