Starring Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon. Rating not available.
As love letters to pulp cinema go, The Art of the Steal is an improvement on writer-director Jonathan Sobol’s previous feature, A Beginner’s Guide to Endings. Too bad his writing isn’t up to the level of his engaging visual style and evident rapport with actors.
Just as he talked Harvey Keitel into his Guide, the Ontario filmmaker makes Matt Dillon and Kurt Russell the biggest part of Art as Nicky and Crunch Calhoun, half-brothers perpetually at each other’s throats. Mortal enmity doesn’t keep them from pulling the odd heist together, though, as seen in a slick preamble set in Warsaw, during which a rare Seurat painting gets snatched and things go horribly wrong for bad-luck Crunch. Five-plus prison years later, he’s pulling bad motorcycle stunts on the stadium circuit in eastern Canada when he gets sucked back into the orbit of nasty Nick.
Apparently, someone has liberated the only known copy of Gutenberg’s less famous second book, a gospel according to Jesus’s brother James. (Siblings, eh?) Soon, the Calhouns are rounding up the old gang, including Kenneth Welsh’s Irish grifter and a suave French forger (cartoon voice veteran Chris Diamantopoulos), to lift the tome from lockup at the Niagara Falls border crossing.
New to this crowd is Jay Baruchel as a tattooed kid in unexplained awe of Crunch’s Dude-like aura (although the pleasantly self-deprecating Russell resembles Kris Kristofferson more than he does Jeff Bridges). And Katheryn Winnick plays Crunch’s young girlfriend, who should be called Unnamed Female Character for all the personality she is given.
Elsewhere, the Daily Show’s Jason Jones is an Interpol agent forcing Terence Stamp’s aging art thief to help him take down our gang. Sobol clearly knew he could rely on this likable cast to enliven whatever words he handed them. Good thing, too, since his script is full of painfully familiar jokes and twists you can see coming at every turn. The real crime is that he didn’t try harder.