How do you make a movie about a bunch of criminals stealing a piece of artwork both entertaining and different from the other movies about a bunch of criminals stealing artwork (or anything else)? That’s the main question that The Art of the Steal faces, and I’m not quite sure it ever figures out the answer. It has moments of strong humor, but apart from how funny it is at times, is there really any reason to watch it over, say, one of the Ocean’s movies? Not really.
The film begins with a failed heist which lands the protagonist, Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) — who comes up with these names? — in prison for seven years. He gets out in 5.5 due to good behavior, and upon his release decides to quit thievery and make an honest living as a motorcycle daredevil. He gets a girlfriend (Katheryn Winnick), an “apprentice,” (Jay Baruchel), and does stupid stunts for money, but not much of it. Months later, his brother comes by with a proposition: one last job, a $1.5 million payout. Never mind that the brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon) is the one that landed Crunch in prison in the first place.
It sounds pretty much like every other caper movie you’ve seen, doesn’t it? And for the most part, it is. The team gets assembled, a plan gets put into place — they’re going to steal a priceless religious book whose origin doesn’t ultimately matter — and the film progresses from there. A double\cross or two are thrown in, but that’s all par for the course. You’ve seen all of it before and you likely don’t need to see it again.
What The Art of the Steal does differently is in its humor. The film contains many laugh-out-loud moments, and its cast delivers the jokes well. It takes a few minutes to truly settle in with its style of comedy, but after you’re there, you don’t get too many dead stretches. The best laughs come from Terrence Stamp, who plays a former art thief on parole who is tasked with helping an Interpol agent try to stop whatever heist it is that The Brothers Calhoun are planning on pulling off. Stamp is snarky and sarcastic and it’s really, really funny.
The cast is also game, which helps a lot. You don’t get to see Kurt Russell too often nowadays, so watching him at all is a pleasure. He and Matt Dillon get some good scenes together, and while the acting isn’t going to win any awards, everyone’s having a good time and as a result, we have a good time. That’s the formula that worked in the Ocean’s films, and they’re the gold standard at this point, so I can see why The Art of the Steal would take that route.
When the film starts winding down and needs to explain exactly who did what to whom and for which reason, it starts to get a little too convoluted for its own good. These movies tend to have complex stories, and keeping them all straight and coherent is a difficult task for anyone. This one unwinds just a little bit, and it can be tough to follow. It’s needlessly complicated. It didn’t need to be like this, but the filmmakers thought it did because that makes it seem more like it’s worth our time, I guess.
The only other noteworthy thing about The Art of the Steal — apart from the fact that it shares its name with a well-received documentary about the Barnes Foundation — is that it’s a Canadian production, meaning if you are Canadian (which I am) or have an affinity for the country, you have a film that has a fighting chance in theaters to call your own. That’s … actually rather rare. When was the last fully Canadian production you saw hit theaters? I honestly can’t think of what it would be.
The Art of the Steal is a caper movie that does nothing special, but it’s moderately entertaining and funnier than these movies generally are. If you like the genre and aren’t tired by its clichés and tropes, you’ll likely have a good time with this film. It has actors who are game and fun to watch, a needlessly complicated plot, and a lot of laughs scattered throughout. And it’s Canadian, for what that’s worth. There’s nothing of substance to it, but that kind of movie is sometimes worth seeing. This might be one of those times.