A nifty little character study-cum-caper pic, “Klepto” reps a sharp feature debut for helmer and co-scenarist Thomas Trail. Whether effort has the oomph to bust out of the festival circuit into theatrical distribution is an open question, but this engaging seriocomedy should prove an attractive small-screen pickup while leading its creator to bigger things.
Set in L.A., low-key but nicely etched screenplay (written with Ethan Gross) discovers young Emily (Meredith Bishop) shoplifting goods from a department store where Nick (Jsu Garcia) is the “loss prevention specialist.” Spying her stealthy moves over surveillance camera monitors, Nick — who feels no particular loyalty toward his job or irksome supervisor — is impressed enough to let her waltz away, at least this first time.
He has other things on his mind, anyway, particularly a scheme to start a legit business of his own. But that’s been stymied by his alimony payments and poor credit history. Desperate for a loan, he begs bankrolling from Russian mafia type Ivan (an amusing Henry Czerny) so he can buy a huge lot of Ecstacy pills, then sell them. But latter deal turns out to be a rip-off, leaving Nick with Ivan’s goons breathing down his neck.
Meanwhile, rudderless aspiring artist Emily is trying to present a good front to both her shrink (Michael Nouri) and a visiting, divorced mom (Leigh Taylor-Young). Emily’s light-fingered habit arises out of simple thrill-seeking and an obsessive-compulsive disorder. She’s a smirking, bratty rebel-without-a-cause, one who hardly seems to justify Nick’s “I find you fascinating.”
But the tentative relationship he more or less blackmails her into accepting proves useful once he’s abruptly fired from the department store. An effectively tense climax and its aftermath see justice meted out in most unfair fashion.
Modest in scale but precisely executed, “Klepto” lets its larger messages about consumer culture, class/economic traps, etc., seep into the narrative subtext, without need for overt commentary. Perfs are strong down the line (even if Bishop’s character needn’t have been quite so off-putting), with Garcia a charismatic co-lead, Michael Irby a solid sidekick, Michael E. Rodgers very funny as a tweaked-out drug dealer, and the elegant Taylor-Young excellent as the fluttery, well-meaning but hapless mother.
As is usually the case, pic can’t be said to benefit (beyond the cost-cutting factor) from digital lensing, but it does have a well-thought-out visual aesthetic thanks to d.p. Peter Rieveschl, smart design contribs, and Trail’s own pacey editing. Musical choices are also notably savvy.