The Brass Teapot tries to force a moralistic, Twilight Zone-ish plot into an indie comedy, a task that proves impossible for first-time feature director Ramaa Mosley. Juno Temple and Michael Angarano play a quirky, slightly annoying couple whose love is strong enough to overcome their general destitution and lack of direction. When fate delivers them the titular teapot, that bond is tested: The ancient teapot has magical powers, specifically the power to spit out varying amounts of cash when its owners experience pain—a knee to the balls, for example, pays more than a pinch on the arm. For a brief time, The Brass Teapot finds some fun in the premise, with Temple and Angarano devising new ways to hurt themselves and each other in order to rake in the dough, such as a brief, vaguely funny S&M scene (one of the movie’s many attempts to get Temple wearing as little as possible).
But any comedic fuel evaporates quickly, and The Brass Teapot is left with an overlong running time and a whisper-thin premise to stretch into it, as the film’s compromised antiheroes slowly crumble until their love inevitably saves the day. In its attempts at absurdism, the movie sends in a pair of commando Hasidic Jews who are looking to retrieve their mother’s treasure and their rightful inheritance. Representing the movie’s moralizing side, a wise Chinese man—played by Stephen “It’s a Radisson” Park from Fargo—attempts to stop the couple’s self-destruction and rid the world of the teapot for good. A potentially fun supporting cast (Alexis Bledel, Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer) offers little more than color and padding; they’re signposts in the moral design more than characters.
The Brass Teapot stops short of having Angarano turn to Temple and say, “Greed is bad!”—but just barely. At least it portrays the characters as flawed to begin with; rather than wealth turning saints into sinners, it makes greedy, compromised people more greedy and compromised. But there are zero stakes in The Brass Teapot, which makes the whole thing feel airless and inevitable, almost like a children’s movie. Its comedic side never bites, and its moral side is painfully one-dimensional. A little to the left and The Brass Teapot might’ve been mean-spirited fun; a little to the right and it could play on The Hallmark Channel. For a movie with such an outlandish premise, it’s remarkably dull.