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‘Finding Steve McQueen’: Criminals not quite geniuses in a story not quite true

Rhys Coio (from left), Jake Weary, William Fichtner, Louis Lombardi and Travis Fimmel in "Finding Steve McQueen." | Momentum Pictures

In last year’s inspired-by-true-events, 1980s period-piece heist film “The Old Man and the Gun,” Robert Redford’s handsome and charming Forrest Tucker sits in a diner booth with Sissy Spacek’s Jewel and comes clean about his true identity as a bank robber.

In this week’s inspired-by-true-events, 1970s period-piece heist film “Finding Steve McQueen,” Travis Fimmel’s handsome and charming Harry Barber sits in a diner booth with Rachael Taylor’s Molly, and comes clean about his true identity as a bank robber.

So yep. This is basically “The Young Man and the Gun.”

Just as “The Old Man and the Gun” was a fanciful and mostly lighthearted adventure built on a foundation of actual events but told with generous poetic license, Mark Steven Johnson’s “Finding Steve McQueen” is a combo platter of crazy-but-true history mixed with creative fiction.

The result is an entertaining if sometimes overly self-conscious 1970s period piece, bursting with pop culture references to everything from young Goldie Hawn to “All in the Family” to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and set to tunes such as “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” by T. Rex and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & the Shondells.

“Finding Steve McQueen” jumps back and forth between 1979, when Fimmel’s Harry is enjoying a low-key, peaceful life with his girlfriend Molly — and 1971, when Harry and his fellow Ohio-based partners in crime took a road trip with a plan to steal some $30 million from a bank in Laguna Niguel, California.

But not just “any” $30 million. As the rumors have it, this particular bank is housing tens of millions of ill-gotten cash from Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign.

That’s right: these small-time Goodfellas Goofballs are Going to California with some takin’ in their hearts.

What could possibly go right?

Harry’s favorite movie is “Bullitt,” and he takes fashion and hairstyle cues from his idol Steve McQueen. He’s no dummy, but he has a kind of cinematically naïve view of the world. Sure, he’s up for a bank robbery! But here’s hoping it’s really cool and slick and awesome, and nobody gets hurt.

The effortlessly scene-stealing veteran character actor William Fichtner plays Harry’s Uncle Enzo, the Nixon-hating mastermind of the operation. Other members of the gang include Enzo’s buddy Pauly (Louis Lombardi from “The Sopranos”) and Harry’s somewhat shaky brother Tommy (Jake Weary), a Vietnam veteran obsessed with his baseball card collection.

Basically hiding in plain sight, the Ohio guys arrive in California and hang out at Gnarly’s, a surfer bar next to the bank, as they figure out a way to blast a 3-foot-diameter hole in a concrete ceiling above the vault without attracting any attention.

And if the first attempt isn’t entirely successful, there’s always tomorrow.

Jeez, these guys are idiots. But maybe they’re street-smart geniuses as well?

Maybe.

Among the many eccentric joys in this movie, we get Forest Whitaker doing his Forest Whitaker thing as an FBI agent incensed but also fascinated by the heist. (“The last time I saw a vault job like this,” he says, “Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were doing it in a movie … ‘Ocean’s 11.’ ”) Sure, why not.

“Finding Steve McQueen” director Mark Steven Johnson (working here from a screenplay by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon) wrote the scripts for “Grumpy Old Men” — and “Christopher Robin.” His writing-directing credits include “Simon Birch” — and “Ghost Rider.” Suffice to say he’s a versatile craftsman with a wide-ranging portfolio, and this film is not his first offbeat rodeo.

Of course “Finding Steve McQueen” features an epilogue with factoids about the real-life case and the real-life Harry Barber.

Spoiler alert: To the very end, truth remains in a dead heat with fiction.

‘Finding Steve McQueen’

Momentum Pictures presents a film directed by Mark Steven Johnson and written by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon. Rated R (for language throughout, including some sexual references). Running time: 91 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC Streets of Woodfield and on demand.