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The Art of the Steal

By Philip Martin

This article was published March 14, 2014 at 2:34 a.m.


Nicky Calhoun (Matt Dillon) is an art thief looking for one last big score in The Art of the Steal.

As over plotted, overpopulated heist comic thrillers go, The Art of the Steal - a Canadian-made feature which should not be confused with the 2009 documentary of the same name - is a pleasant surprise. While it’s not The Sting or even Heist, it’s enjoyable, brightly paced and, at times, remarkably designed and shot.

It starts with Kurt Russell playing Crunch Calhoun, a motorcycle daredevil and former criminal wheel man who could be Stuntman Mike’s Canadian (and therefore nicer) cousin, getting out of a Polish prison after serving five-and-a half years courtesy of his younger half-brother, art thief Nicky (Matt Dillon). Things went wrong on what was to be Crunch’s “one last job,” and Nicky rolled over on him to save himself. Crunch,who admits his greatest asset is his dependability, feels he can’t continue “in the life” after this breach of trust. So he goes home to North America where he finds himself intentionally crashing his bike for the sake of a few extra loonies.

It’s no way to live, although Crunch does acquire a useful girlfriend Lola (Katheryn Winnick) and “an apprentice” named Francie (a dirty-necked Jay Baruchel)as well as a pretty nice crib. (Hey, he probably made millions thieving art before he got caught. Despite our hero’s poor-mouthing, maybe things aren’t really so bad for old Crunch.)

But then Crunch’s bike is stolen by a thug who has been double-crossed by baby bro, leaving Crunch with no real alternative when Nicky shows up with an even more lucrative scheme. Crunch is initially resistant, but soon the old band is getting back together. There’s randy Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), the crew’s “Rolodex” with connections in every nook of the underworld, and Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos), a French forger with the wardrobe of “a slutty elf.” And Lola and Francie, both of whom, it turns out, have their roles to play in the job.

It’s a complicated setup involving the extraction of an incredibly rare Gutenberg book - the apocryphal Gospel According to James - that, due to events too detailed to relate here, has been impounded on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls by oblivious customs agents. Paddy’s got an American buyer for the book; all they need to do is liberate it from the heavily guarded facility.

Meanwhile, they’re being pursued by a silly Interpol agent (Jason Jones, whose shtick works better on The Daily Show than it does here) and his reluctant collaborator Sam (Terence Stamp), an old criminal who turned state’s evidence to stay out of jail.

Jonathan Sobol, who wrote and directed the film, has a great eye. There are a couple of scenes set inside antiseptic white rooms interrupted occasionally by planes of popping color.

Unfortunately the film devotes far too much time to delineating the particulars of each inevitable double-cross, shorting some excellent characters. Winnick might as well not be in the thing for all the interest the movie shows her, and Baruchel’s best moments appear on a blooper reel that accompanies the credits. Stamp, while he’s given enough to do, feels shoehorned into the movie.

Still, The Art of the Steal isn’t a difficult watch at all - it’s high energy, and the cast all seems cued into the script’s more surreal aspects. It just misses making some rather interesting points about why some people might want to own beautiful things they can’t ever show anyone else.

The Art of the Steal 87

Cast: Kurt Russell, Jay Baruchel, Matt Dillon, Kenneth Welsh, Jason Jones, Terence Stamp, Chris Diamantopoulos, Katheryn Winnick Director: Jonathan Sobol Rating: R, for language Running time: 90 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 03/14/2014

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