The first sentence in the heist movie Lying and Stealing is an old Yiddish proverb: “When a thief kisses you, count your teeth.” It’s a clever setup for the crime movie that follows, which is less clever but often elegant and slickly directed by Matt Aselton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Adam Nagata. The movie has moments, but clichés abound and it runs out of energy and steam early. In a memorably bad summer, count it as another dull indie-prod on its way to home video.
The cast of unknowns is headed by the incredibly handsome and enviably suave Theo James as Ivan Warding, a master art thief who loves the art he steals as much as the art of stealing it (he knows all about Degas, Giacometti and Koons). Ivan learned the intricacies of his criminal trade from his father, but now he wants out. So he comes up with an idea for one last heist with the aid of a Hollywood actress named Elyse, played by Emily Ratajkowski, who is not much of an actress, but changes wigs a lot and disrobes at regular intervals.
LYING AND STEALING ★★
Dimitri, the obese Greek crime lord he works for (Fred Melamed) commissions a theft from a client who is a big collector of illegal Nazi war memorabilia. The job is to steal a self-portrait of Adolf Hitler, who was a failed artist before he invented the Third Reich. If he succeeds, Ivan gets a cut of $500,000.
Elyse, who becomes a partner in crime, is desperate for money. Ivan’s bipolar, drug-addicted brother Ray is a dependent responsibility with his own dangerous parole officer. The FBI agent on Ivan’s trail is ready to pounce. The director spends too much time on the heist mechanics as we watch Ivan unplugging security cameras, cutting paintings from frames and stuffing them into his tuxedo jacket, and helping himself to his victims’ wine cellars on his way out.
It’s all been done before, but the reason it’s worth watching is to see James do it again. He turns this modest movie into a Thomas Crown Affair redux as easily as flipping a Cartier cigarette lighter. With the sex appeal of Steve McQueen and the polished sophistication of Cary Grant, it’s a wonder this skillful and camera-ready actor hasn’t already become a major movie star. Lying and Stealing won’t do much to steer him in the right direction, but it would be nice to see him on the screen again, and often.