Writer-director Jonathan Sobol had the right idea with The Art of the Steal. He assembled an excellent (if not exactly A-list) ensemble and constructed an irreverent, occasionally funny and sometimes clever little heist flick. But much like the art forgery that appears in his movie, The Art of the Steal feels a bit too much like a modest copy of so many other films. Besides the obvious Steven Soderbergh, Ocean’s Eleven vibe, it seems to draw from Rian Johnson’s early work, as well as Quentin Tarantino and a laundry list of various crime movies. So while Sobol is obviously trying to make an honestly fun movie, he’s not adding much to the genre, and he’s certainly not doing anything memorable.
The plot involves the unlikely named Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell), a broken down daredevil and former art thief who’s just served five years in Polish prison, after being turned in by his half brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon). Reluctantly, he agrees to get back with Nicky in order to steal and smuggle a rare book. That’s the simple version. The movie gets much more convoluted and more than a little unbelievable as things progress, and the film’s complex plot doesn’t make sense under any real scrutiny. Needless to say, this is the kind of movie that will twist and turn on itself, and while Art of the Steal can be clever — and even a little imaginative in its filmmaking — there just isn’t enough for the surprises to matter.
No one in the cast will wow you, but everyone is built for their roles, from Russell’s smartassed, aged hero, to Matt Dillon’s smarmy, shifty villain. Terence Stamp, however, walks away with the movie in a small role as a reformed art thief forced to work for Interpol (a real pity, since no one will see the film, let alone him in it). Stamp is the only truly sympathetic, humane character — something that’s more Stamp’s doing than the film’s. He does more in his short stints of screen time than anyone else can manage throughout the film. This doesn’t quite save the movie, but it does raise it above much of the flotsam out right now. Note: this film will only be playing through Thursday, March 20. Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas.