Many a movie character has been made in the mold of the small-time crook. Ask the Coen brothers, for example; they’ve made a career on films about ordinary people trying to do brazen (and usually illegal) things. As morally outstanding movie-goers (perhaps I should speak just for myself), we identify with these characters because we ourselves would likely have trouble keeping our cool in a similar situation. The consequences of these actions usually make for fascinating character studies and moral quandaries. If not, well, it’s almost always hilarious.
“30 Minutes or Less,” which comes out Friday, tells a story of how two lazy criminals played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson strap a bomb to a pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) and force him to rob a bank. With that in mind, I’ve found 10 of the dumbest criminals to ever grace the silver screen. Thanks to Moviefone and Rotten Tomatoes for some help.
10. Dick and Jane – Fun with Dick and Jane
When they lose their jobs and can no longer afford to live their ideal upper-middle-class lifestyle, Dick (Jim Carrey) and Jane (Téa Leoni) turn to robbery as their primary source of income. Needless to say, they don’t make the most convincing of crooks as evidenced in this scene where Dick intimidates a tied-up Jeff Garlin while having fun with his voice-changer mask.
9. Sonny and Sal – Dog Day Afternoon
The most “serious” film on the list would be this suspenseful drama from the great Sidney Lumet. Sonny (Pacino) convinces his buddy Sal (Cazale) to help him rob a bank so that he can pay for his lover’s sex change. Unfortunately for these small-timers, most of the cash has been picked up for the day. Determined to make something of nothing, Sonny begins to negotiate with the police for a plane out of the country and safe passage. At one point, Sonny asks Sal where he’d like to go and his answer is amusing. (Watch Clip Here)
8. Peter, Samir and Michael Bolton – Office Space
The best model for white-collar crime would obviously be Richard Pryor and Robert Vaughn’s evil plan in “Superman III.” No? Well that’s what these three cubicle workers determine would be the best way to get back at their awful employer: taking fraction of a penny at a time. Not an awful idea, until within a short time they have $300,000. The three freak out and Michael Bolton (David Herman) imagines the consequences in this clip.
7. Sol and Vinny – Snatch
Here’s a case in which two experienced criminals with big guns should know better. They attempt to rob a bookie and the woman at the front desk informs them that “all bets are off,” so they’ve literally nothing but a bag of pennies (or the copper British equivalent). To top it off, they manage to get in a bit of a physical predicament before their buddy Tyrone rescues them.
6. Jerry, Carl and Gaear – Fargo
I could’ve chosen any number of dumb criminals from a Coen brothers film, but Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) might take the cake as a financially struggling man who decides to hire thugs to kidnap his wife so that her wealthy father will cough up some dough. Things go wrong right off the bat as thugs Carl (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear (Peter Stormare) aren’t the sharpest of criminals and things ultimately spin out of control and into a bloody, bloody mess. (Watch Clip Here)
5. Harry and Marv – Home Alone
The classic ’90s dumb criminals are Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). They definitely define dumb crooks for anyone who grew up in that decade (including myself). They’re slapstick dumb, but check out this clip below for a reminder of the sheer joy of these antics as young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) must defend his home from robbers when his parents accidentally leave him home over Christmas.
4. Dignan, Anthony and the Team – Bottle Rocket
Wes Anderons’ first major film foray features an entire ensemble of inept criminals. Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) are amateur criminals at best who try to act and talk like serious professionals. They assemble a six-man team in order to crack a safe. Not only does their safe-cracker, an old Indian man named Kumar, seem to lose his touch on the job, but the other men have ineptitudes of their own. You can watch the entire amusing scene below.
3. Linda and Chad – Burn After Reading
If you’re going to turn criminal, make sure you have a crime worth committing. Linda (Frances McDormand) and Chad (Brad Pitt) are two gym employees that think they’ve found some top-secret documents belonging to an Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). They decide they’ll sell him back his information for a ton of money, in part so that Linda can get liposuction. Their means of extortion are far from intelligent and it lands them in more trouble than they ever imagined.
2. Mark Whitacre – The Informant!
Matt Damon’s best non-action performance comes as Mark Whitacre, a hard-working employee for a corn cultures development company. He’s good at that job, but the FBI manages to enlist him in helping expose his company’s price-fixing schemes. Problem is he’s a bit awe-stricken by the whole corporate espionage thing and he has his own ideas about what he can and can’t do that causes him problems in both his real job and job as an informant. One of the best (and only) examples of a completely oblivious white-collar criminal.
1. Otto – A Fish Called Wanda
Kevin Kline takes the cake on this list for his Oscar-winning performance as Otto, a crazy, insensitive and ignorant prick who’s part of a team of thieves trying to steal some precious diamonds. Otto and his girlfriend (Jamie Lee Curtis) plan to double-cross the others, but things go wrong quickly and Otto’s too absent-minded to realize other manipulations going on behind his back. One of the most spot-on quirky performances ever, Kline is a pure joy to watch. (Watch Clip Here)