Scruffy and hooded, the “Twilight” vampire matinee idol Robert Pattinson undergoes a complete transformation and gives a strong, charismatic performance in Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie’s new heist-caper movie “Good Time.”
In this chaotic crime drama, Pattinson plays Connie Nikas, a tough but inexperienced career criminal looking after his mentally disabled brother Nik (played by Benny Safdie). Their relationship barely focuses a story that often loses its way in its aggressive momentum.
The title is an ironic reference to the reduction of jail time for good behavior, but the characters are locked in prisons to which fate have sentenced them. Nearly everyone in the movie is dominated by a strong matriarchal figure and their dreams always end in disaster.
Modeled on Scorsese’s black comedy “After Hours,” “Good Times” is about Connie’s bewildering odyssey through a single night in New York as he tries with increasingly nutty desperation to spring Nik from a Rikers Island hospital after a bank robbery gone horribly wrong.
As directed by the Safdie brothers, the bank heist is a great set-piece. Everything that takes place is superbly staged, from the fright-film masks the robbers wear to the placid, diffident reaction of the bank teller, who has probably been in this situation before.
Connie makes Nik his accomplice partly because Connie thinks his brother’s serene personality means he can stay cool under pressure and partly because his condition means he will do what Connie tells him to do without arguments or questions.
“Good Time” manages to deliver pleasures in unexpected ways. Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as Connie’s girlfriend Corey, who dreams about taking a long vacation in Costa Rica even as Connie exploits her to get her money so he can bail Nik out of the slammer.
Buddy Duress is a scene-stealer as Ray, a fellow criminal who is even more inept and reckless than Connie. The movie spends much of its third act on Connie’s plot to steal Ray’s soda bottle filled with LSD at an abandoned, broken-down Queens amusement park.
Taliah Webster is a gem as a pragmatic Lolita who loves reality cop shows and who, in a startling scene, is seduced and almost raped by Connie just to distract her from a TV news broadcast showing his face and giving details about the busted bank robbery.
Barkhad Abdi (the leader of the pirates in “Captain Phillips”) turns up as the amusement park security guard who gets more than he bargained for when he runs into Connie and Ray as they frantically search for the bottle of LSD stashed there.
The film’s major weakness is the wayward script (by Josh Safdie and Ronald Bronstein) that introduces characters and then mislays them. After the opening robbery scene, Nik disappears from the movie for more than an hour. Connie gets mixed up with Ray’s criminal mess and an unsatisfying backstory for too long. Corey’s troubles with Connie and her mother simply fade out unresolved.
“Good Time” is propelled by a headache-inducing electronic score that’s the aural equivalent of the Safdies’ neon-radiant, in-your-face visual style, but Pattinson’s somber, shrewd acting gives the movie’s thrills an undercurrent of sadness.