(Spanish dialogue)

(Spanish dialogue)

Four frustrated, middle-class joes decide to stick up the state-run bank that’s been sticking it to them and in so doing uncover a hornet’s nest of publicity and corruption in “Little Thieves, Big Thieves.” Ambitious second feature from “Knocks at My Door” director Alejandro Saderman is marred slightly by abrupt shifts in dramatic tone and a somewhat murky lighting scheme, but puts a thought-provoking yet entertaining human face on the recent bank crisis in Venezuela. Pic will be valued by fests, but investment by offshore distribs is a more speculative question.

On Christmas Eve, in the midst of a nationwide financial scandal, desperate adman Horacio (Orlando Urdaneta) is putting the finishing touches on a plan to rob the Pan-American Bank in cahoots with similarly stressed childhood buddies Valmore (Daniel Lugo), Rogelio (Aroldo Betancourt) and Vicente (Mariano Alvarez). As they psych themselves up for the deed, each is discovered to have pressing financial or family reasons to go ahead with the job.

Posing as various officials, they arrive at the bank before dawn just after the new year, only to discover two pieces of bad news: First, the bank has already been looted in a faked intervention apparently engineered by its president; and second, suspect accountant Pujol (Armando Gota) has gotten there ahead of them.

With dawn comes the inevitable media circus, as the now-reluctant gang mistakes a visiting commercial shoot for TV cameras and prompt the police, including gung-ho cop Gomez Lira (Manuel Salazar), to surround the building. Never quite panicking, Horacio keeps his confederates together, breaks the computer code, enlists hostages in the scheme and even finds time for love.

Well-written, often humorous pic knows it strolls close to American action genres and runs with that, riffing on themes from “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Die Hard,” “Mad City” and others. There’s even specific mention of “Dog Day Afternoon,” including an updated spin on one of that film’s key subplots. Ancillary characters are well drawn, and each has a chance for a moment in the spotlight when the standoff takes on a party atmosphere (“The best kidnapping of my life,” claims one).

Tech credits suffice, with nice handling of crowd and action sequences unfortunately undercut by mood-killing dance music that may signify the all-in-fun nature of this David & Goliath story but also serves to drain tension instantly. Many of the bank interiors appear underlit, with some characters apparently blocked to play scenes in available light near windows while others are left in deep shadow. The original title tightens the popular proverb “He who robs a thief deserves a hundred years of forgiveness,” and succinctly explains Saderman’s benevolent view of the proceedings.

Little Thieves, Big Thieves

(THRILLER -- VENEZUELAN-GERMAN-U.S.)

Production

An Alejandro Saderman Prods., CNAC, Cinemateriales, Post House (Venezuela)/Lichtblick (Germany)/TNT America Latina (U.S.) production. (International sales: Alejandro Saderman, Caracas.) Produced by Alejandro Saderman. Executive producer, Antonio Llerandi. Directed by Alejandro Saderman. Screenplay, Carlos Gonzalez, Luis Zelkowicz, Henry Herrera, Saderman. Camera (color), Hernan Toro; editor, Giuliano Ferrioli; music, Julio d'Escrivan; art director, Marcelo Pont Verges; sound (Dolby), Stefano Gramitto; assistant director, Belen Orsini. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 16, 1998. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Horacio ..... Orlando Urdaneta Valmore ..... Daniel Lugo Rogelio ..... Aroldo Betancourt Vicente ..... Mariano Alvarez Lucia ..... Elluz Peraza Juan Carlos ..... Flavio Caballero Pujol ..... Armando Gota Gomez Lira ..... Manuel Salazar
With: Alicia Plaza, Cayito Aponte, Dad Dager, Paco Ginot.
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