Some actors just make you smile when they show up in a movie, even when they’re bringing the ham and the cheese in middling fare.
Your Kurt Russell, for instance. Who doesn’t like seeing that familiar, increasingly squared-off face?
Or how about your Matt Dillon? Dillon’s a dozen years younger than Russell, but he’s just as a familiar a face.
According to IMDB, Dillon has 53 film and TV roles, while Russell has 91. And yet sometimes it feels as if both Russell and Dillon disappear from the radar for a year or two or three. (Russell has made just seven movies in the last 10 years. Boo.)
Russell and Dillon play half brothers in “The Art of the Steal,” a jaunty caper film that, alas, doesn’t work. It’s like a low-budget, Canadian version of “Ocean’s 11,” with about half as many characters and about one-tenth the charm and style.
This is one of those films where some of the characters AND the audience are kept in the dark until the big reveal montage at the end. This is also one of those films reminding us of how difficult it is to construct such a jigsaw puzzle in a manner that has us saying, “Aha! That’s awesome!” as opposed to, “Wait, what?”
Russell plays Crunch Calhoun, and how is that the name of someone in a live-action movie and not an animated film? When an attempted theft of a Gauguin painting in Poland goes awry, Crunch is betrayed by his low-life half sibling Nicky (Dillon) and has to do five years hard time.
Now Crunch is working as a low-rent motorcycle daredevil — more Awful Knawful than Evel Knievel — and trying to live the straight life. Even though he harbors a major grudge against Nicky, he can’t resist an offer to put the band together and pull off the proverbial one last heist that will make everyone rich.
Here’s the deal. There’s a priceless book — the Gospel of James, the second tome Gutenberg printed after the Bible — in storage in a customs vault at the Canadian border near Niagara Falls. Crunch and his team aim to get their hands on that book through the art of misdirection and deception, and fast talking and double crossing, and maybe even some triple crossing.
Jay Baruchel is Crunch’s apprentice, Francie. Baruchel has the best scene in the movie when he tries to talk his way past a border guard. The crew also includes Kenneth Welsh as Crunch’s partner Paddy, Chris Diamantopoulos as “Guy de Cornet” and Katheryn Winnick as Crunch’s girlfriend, because you have to have at least one girlfriend lolling about in a movie such as this.
Complicating matters: A rather obtuse Interpol agent named Bick (Jason Jones from “The Daily Show”) is convinced Crunch and the boys are up to something, and he’s obsessed with bringing them down, so he has enlisted the services of the legendary art thief (and art expert) Samuel Winter (Terrence Stamp), who doesn’t try to hide his disdain for the agent. (Describing the forced partnership with Agent Bick, Winter says, “You know how they pair professional athletes with slow kids?”)
Writer-director Jonathan Sobol keeps things moving at a brisk 90 minutes, and that includes a bizarre flashback sequence and a few “let’s rewind the scene” moments designed to shed new light on what we thought we saw the first time around. The editing is tight and crisp. Russell, Dillon and the rest of the cast do their best to sell every scene, but it’s a tough sell when the payoff is neither all that stunning nor all that plausible.
For every caper film that delivers (“Inside Man,” “The Score,” “The Bank Job”), there are two or three that stumble to the finish line (last year’s “Now You See Me,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “30 Minutes or Less,” “Hudson Hawk,” the “National Treasure” movies, and I’ll stop now). “The Art of the Steal” is another heist film that doesn’t pull it off.