Review: The Art of The Steal
PLOT: A former thief gets roped into pulling off a massive art heist with his half-brother, who betrayed him years earlier.
REVIEW: While not poised to knock anybody's socks off, a very likable ensemble cast and some clever wordplay make Jonathan Sobel's THE ART OF THE STEAL a pleasant surprise. A fairly light-hearted caper flick, it's the rare case where you can feel several different influences at work - primarily the OCEAN'S ELEVEN series but also THE USUAL SUSPECTS and Guy Ritchie's early crime comedies - and yet the end result is enjoyable enough on its own that you don't hold its creative theft against it.
The film's greatest asset is Kurt Russell, as charming as ever, playing a character named "Crunch" Calhoun. In his heyday, Crunch was an expert wheelman, and his team of international thieves were the best in the art heist business. (The movie is careful to note this gang's crime sprees are mostly harmless, with no one ever getting hurt.) Now he's crashing his bike Evil Knievel-style for paltry bucks at auto shows. His downfall was precipitated by a double-cross by his half-brother Nicky (Matt Dillon), who got caught red-handed during a scam and opted to turn Crunch in instead of taking the heat himself. (He would have gotten life in prison, whereas Crunch "only" had to do seven years because he had no record.) Naturally, he's reunited with Nicky when the latter becomes caught up in a plot to steal the Gutenberg Bible, with the tense alliance being eased some by bringing the old gang back together, with the aid of Crunch's new assistant Francie (Jay Baruchel).
THE ART OF THE STEAL pulls out ever caper movie trope in the book; characters explain their plots while we see footage of said plot in action; a crime is shown one way then revealed to have gone down a different way entirely later on; a genuine piece of art turns out to be a forgery, while the one we thought was a fake has been real all along. And so it goes... Sobel has certainly studied up, and he handles the action and comedy ably while never quite elevating THE ART OF THE STEAL to a master class level. Which is okay, because at 90 minutes the film is swift, easy to digest and harmless, possessing nary a mean bone in its body. Its attitude and outlook are quite bright, actually, with the focus on camaraderie as opposed to violence or revenge.
Sobel has filled each part ably, with the roles seemingly tailor-made for the actors who inhabit them. Russell is an affable man's man; Baruchel is a paranoid wise-ass; Dillon is a slick but untrustworthy jerk; Terrence Stamp - as a former crook hesitantly helping the authorities - is steely coolness personified. The supporting cast, while not made up of household names, is equal to the task of matching the charisma of the main players; veteran Canadian character actor Kenneth Welsh has a grand old time as a randy Irish con artist, while Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe from the THREE STOOGES movie) conjures a perfectly acceptable, and stereotypical, French accent as the team's expert forger. "The Daily Show's" Jason Jones is also entertaining as a seriously jerky Interpol agent who is paired with Stamp; what an odd couple that is.
If there's a disappointment in the character department, it's that there's no room for the ladies, and if this movie needs anything it's a female touch to balance out all the snarky male bonding. It has almost nothing for its female lead to do; Katheryn Winnick's Lola, Russell's girlfriend/assistant, is practically relegated to the sidelines for the entire movie, popping up when convenient for the plot. The only other female character who comes close to mattering is called "Olga Something-Long" because no one can remember her name; she gets about 3 minutes of screen time.
But fans of Russell will definitely want to show up for this one; the man's appearances on the big (or small) screen are too few and far between, and his presence is as strong as ever. They just don't make movie stars like this anymore. Come back, Kurt, cinema needs you.