Nick and Connie Nikas are brothers, like Josh and Benny Safdie, the directors of “Good Time.” Nick — played by Benny Safdie — is mentally disabled, while Connie (Robert Pattinson) might charitably be described as an idiot. Motivated by a volatile mix of desperation and bravado, he involves Nick in a poorly planned, haphazardly executed bank robbery. You can bet money on a disastrous outcome, though you might not foresee the precise sequence of mayhem and farce that unfolds on the streets of Queens over a single freezing night. The caper includes an after-hours visit to an amusement park, a soda bottle full of LSD, a case of mistaken identity and plenty of chases, beatings and narrow escapes.
The Safdies are as clever and crafty as Connie is inept and impulsive. “Good Time,” their third co-directed fictional feature — after the autobiographical “Daddy Longlegs” and the addiction romance “Heaven Knows What” — moves smartly and propulsively to the stressed-out strains of Daniel Lopatin’s edge-of-a-heart-attack score. The smudgy, grimy urban landscape — emergency rooms, fast-food restaurants, blocks of modest, over-mortgaged, squeezed-together houses — is shot (by Sean Price Williams) with a fastidious avoidance of prettiness. The story doesn’t twist and turn so much as squirm and jump like an eel in the bottom of a rowboat. The biggest surprises confirm what an unbelievable slimeball Connie is. He’s about as hard to root for as any movie outlaw you can think of.
And yet, partly because Mr. Pattinson’s movie-star incandescence can’t quite be obscured by facial hair and bad lighting, and partly because of the immutable laws of genre and spectacle, you sort of have no choice but to root for him. You’re stuck with him, and you might as well make the best of it. The Safdies have explored this kind of ambiguity before. In “Daddy Longlegs,” the wayward father, played by Ronald Bronstein (a character based on their own father), was appalling and charming in almost equal measure; his charisma both enabled and camouflaged his wanton irresponsibility. You might have recoiled in horror at his recklessness, but you couldn’t deny that he loved his kids.