After serving five and a half years in a Polish prison, career criminal Crunch Calhoun (Kurt Russell) is ready to renounce his thieving ways. Jonathan Sobol’s well-cast but tedious heist comedy begins with our grizzled antihero at a low ebb—moonlighting as a motorcycle daredevil who takes bone-breaking tumbles for easy payouts. While recuperating from his latest accident, Crunch is contacted by his estranged brother and former partner in crime, Nicky (Matt Dillon) about the big-money burglary of a rare book. Though Crunch is suspicious (it was Nicky’s fault he was in jail in the first place), the caper proves too tempting to resist.
Sadly, The Art of the Steal proves all too easy to resist, despite the best efforts of an ensemble that includes Jay Baruchel as Crunch’s hyped-up protégé, Twin Peaks’ Kenneth Welsh as the group’s horny grandpa, and Terence Stamp, in paycheck-cashing mode, as the world-weary informant helping bring them down. Russell is always a pleasure to watch, especially in the film’s one really inspired sequence: a silent-movie-like flashback to a legendary rip-off of the Mona Lisa, in which he gets to do some hilarious, mustache-twirling physical comedy. Otherwise, the film is made up of plundered parts from the Oceans series and The Usual Suspects, and—like several of the forged tomes that figure in the plot—it’s a pale imitation.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich