“Real currency in the world ain’t money; it’s trust.” “There’s no such thing as one last job.” These and other canned bits of honor-among-thieves wisdom can be found in “The Art of the Steal,” a derivative heist thriller-comedy that passes painlessly enough at a brisk 90 minutes, but ultimately feels as disposable as the numerous counterfeit paintings that exchange hands throughout. Cast as estranged brothers trying to settle an old score by stealing (and forging copies of) priceless museum-based treasures, Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon collect their paychecks without breaking a sweat in this low-rent diversion, a lightly amusing riff on the many superior films of its type, including but not limited to the various iterations of “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Italian Job.” The Canadian production is now in theatrical and VOD release through Radius-TWC.
“The Art of the Steal” feels wheezy from the outset, inundating the viewer with Guy Ritchie-style freeze-frame effects identifying the characters not only by their names, but by the roles they play (“the Scratcher,” “the Wheelman”) in the various heists that are planned and (for the most part) pulled off in the course of the script by writer-director Jonathan Sobol (“A Beginner’s Guide to Endings”). The first of these involves the theft of a Gauguin from a Polish museum by shrewd, principled gang leader Crunch Calhoun (Russell), working with his much slimier brother, Nicky (Dillon); Guy (Chris Diamantopoulos), a French art forger par excellence; and Uncle Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), a randy old sod with a deep network of contacts. But when Nicky makes a typically idiotic blunder, the police are tipped off, and Crunch winds up taking the rap for his ne’er-do-well brother.
Seven years later, Crunch is out of the clink and barely eking out a living performing sub-Evel Knievel motorcycle stunts. He’s also got a loyal girlfriend, Lola (Katheryn Winnick), and a smart-talking apprentice, Francie (Jay Baruchel, ever ready with a wisecrack), both of whom wind up getting sucked into the action when Crunch reluctantly agrees to go back into business with Nicky, although not before a few score-settling physical blows are exchanged. With Guy and Paddy eventually persuaded to rejoin their ranks, the team sets its sights on not only Seurat’s pointillist masterwork “Model, Rear View 1887,” but also a Gutenberg-printed copy of the apocryphal Gospel of James.
Ensnaring these treasures will naturally prove a complicated affair, involving tricky border crossings, dangerous liaisons and, most oddly, a giant pink sculpture of a woman’s genitalia that proves anatomically detailed enough to serve as a natural hiding place for some ill-gotten loot; Winnick’s perfunctory role aside, it’s the closest thing the film has to what you’d call a female presence. Also along for the ride are a bumbling idiot of an Interpol agent (Jason Jones) and a sophisticated former art thief (a fine Terence Stamp) who has since become a reluctant agency informant.
Once the script is done playing its belabored game of who’s who, it becomes a sleek and moderately clever exercise in narrative misdirection, with at least one or two twists sly enough to pull the wool over even an attentive viewer’s eyes, as the climactic rush of “gotcha!” flashbacks makes duly apparent. The revelations, when they come, are meant to dovetail with those shopworn sentiments about thievery laid out at the beginning of the film, from the importance of trust to the inevitability of payback; it’s a neat reversal that makes up for in playfulness what it lacks in emotional heft or dramatic stakes.
Russell and Dillon aren’t particularly persuasive as siblings but sock over their good-brother/bad-brother roles effectively enough, anchoring an ensemble of actors who remain pleasant company even when they’re simply going through the motions. Tech package is fine, although the bigscreen doesn’t exactly flatter d.p. Adam Swica’s muted, sometimes murky cinematography (of which gray seems to be the dominant color), and indeed, “The Art of the Steal” will make perfectly acceptable home (or in-flight) viewing. The closing credits include a series of legitimately funny outtakes, many of them more amusing than the film that precedes them.