Review: 'Heist' not a thriller
By Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Although David Mamet's "Heist" opens with an old-fashioned, black and white Warner Bros. logo, it's more like a 1960s anti-hero picture than a classic genre piece. This is the most marketable mind game that Mamet has ever constructed, not that it's likely to rattle the roof at the box office.
As usual, Mamet is too concerned with pretzel-like plotting and ludicrously phrased "look at me" dialogue to pull a broad audience. If it weren't for the participation of Gene Hackman and Delroy Lindo -- two terrific actors who seem utterly incapable of giving a disingenuous performance -- there would be very little to believe about this picture. That's a significant drawback when you're supposed to be left breathless by the characters' cunning.
Hackman plays Joe Moore, a time-hardened professional thief. Joe's crack team of miscreants is comprised of: Bobby Blane (Lindo), a clenched-jaw type who isn't shy about punching and kicking people into submission; Don Pincus (Ricky Jay), an endlessly loyal con man; and Joe's much-younger wife, Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon), the obligatory steamy seductress (more on that later).
For the most part, Mamet allows these performers to deliver his slangy dialogue with something approaching a believable cadence. Unlike his last puzzle movie, "The Spanish Prisoner," they don't all sound like they're reading phonetically from an instruction manual.
"Heist"'s sharply edited opening sequence shows us just how inventive the gang can be when they put their minds to it. They pull off an elaborate robbery of a Manhattan jewelry store that involves, among other things, cups of coffee laced with knockout drops, a bomb going off in a street-side litter basket, and a co-conspirator who allows himself to be struck by a passing car. Joe wants this to be his final job before he retires to the good life. But his face is captured on a store security camera, which gives Bergman (Danny DeVito), the man who bankrolled the operation, extra leverage to force one more caper.
Bergman insists that the gang attempt to steal a pile of gold bars from a Swiss cargo plane. The catch is that they have to include his untested creep of a nephew, Jimmy Silk (Sam Rockwell), in the theft. Jimmy will be the wildcard who throws Joe's well-oiled machine out of whack, which leads to a string of double- and triple-crosses, most of which aren't as clever as Mamet obviously wants us to think they are.
The movie certainly isn't bad, not at a time when hokum like "Domestic Disturbance" is being pawned off as a hard-hitting psychological thriller.
But once you recognize that each new development is nothing more than a prelude to another con (the kind that works only when unknowing participants do exactly what they're expected to do, without an inch of variation) any sense of tension is moot. And Mamet's trademark insistence on miscasting important roles with friends and family floats a stink over several scenes that otherwise would have worked just fine.
Hackman, as already stated, is his usual naturalistic self, even if he's not particularly challenged by the character. At the very least, there's the novelty of seeing him wave guns and talk tough, the way he used to when he was a much younger man. Lindo, for his part, intimidates right along with Hackman; when he confronts callow Rockwell, he looks like he could pick him up and snap him over his knee like kindling. Too bad, then, that Jay is just as not there as he always is. You can forgive him, though, because, in real life, he's a sleight-of-hand artist, not an actor. Honestly, if one of your buddies wanted you to co-star in a movie with Gene Hackman, wouldn't you take him up on it?
Then, as is almost always the case in a Mamet picture, there's Rebecca Pidgeon ... an unfortunate circumstance that's not likely to change as long as Mamet and Pidgeon are married. Pidgeon is an attractive woman, in a ninth-grade-cheerleader sort of way, but she's hardly the type to send men into violent fits of passion. Nevertheless, the male cast members in "Heist" repeatedly respond to her as if she's Jennifer Lopez Theron. Combine that with her insistence on faithfully enunciating every stutter of her husband's proudly clumsy dialogue, and this is one silly-ass performance. Suspension of disbelief is part of the movie-going transaction, but audiences haven't been asked to work this hard since Denise Richards played a nuclear physicist.
"Heist" is surprisingly brutal, given that Hackman has revealed a distaste for movie violence in recent years. There's a couple of beatings, several shootings, a stun-gun incident, and some profanity.
The film opens Friday, November 9. It is rated R.
Heist - Official site
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