The most dangerous heist of them all.
The director of the 1998 French action hit Taxi followed it up with this movie, originally titled Riders. Rumor has it that Steal sat on a shelf for two years before being unceremoniously released. The mark of quality, to be sure.
An entire city is abuzz with talk of a daring daytime bank robbery in which the thieves made their getaway on inline skates, narrowly escaping the cops with some adrenaline-fueled stunts. The gang’s leader, Slim (Steven Dorff, Cecil B. Demented), then dreams up a second heist, a high-speed chase in which they hijack a police truck. Just as it looks like they’ve gotten away with it, Slim and company learn they’ve stolen something they shouldn’t have. Now a mysterious organized crime leader is forcing them into one last job, not for their gain but for his. Meanwhile, Slim has started a romance with a beautiful stranger (Natasha Henstridge, Ghosts of Mars), whom he later learns is one of the police detectives searching for him. With both the cops and the mob breathing down their necks, Slim and his crew must pull off the biggest job of their lives, with no one to trust but themselves.
Good afternoon, class. Welcome to…Class? Settle down. As I was saying, good afternoon, and welcome to your first semester of “How Not to Make a Movie 101.” I take it you’ve all had the chance to review your first assignment, Steal? Very well, then. Lets’ get started.
Now, who can tell me one of the first missteps the movie makes? Sure, it seems exciting enough at the beginning, with a group of bank robbers making their getaway on inline skates. But then, after succeeding, the characters get together and decide that what they’ve stolen is “not enough to retire.” So they pull off a second job, and that’s the one that sets the plot in motion. Does anyone know why this is a problem? Correct. Because it’s as if the movie starts twice. One wonders why the filmmakers couldn’t have had one action scene kick off the plot, rather than two back-to-back. The car chase that makes up the second heist could have been used to better effect later in the film.
Let’s take a look next at the relationship between Steven Dorff and Natasha Henstridge’s characters. After they meet and start flirting, we learn she’s a cop. This stirs some interest in the audience. All kinds of hints are dropped that maybe she secretly knows who he really is and what he’s up to, but these aren’t followed up. Okay, sure—it could just be a red herring. But on closer inspection, it looks to me like the filmmakers were taking the plot in one direction, and then decided to go in another. Also, the script relies on coincidence to bring the two of them together. All the potential for some “cop and thief” relationship drama is lost because of this. Plus, the sex scenes are laughably staged. The body doubles are so obvious, they might as well have held up big signs saying, “Look, I’m a body double.”
What else can be said about the film? Correct: Silly accents. First there’s Bruce Payne (Dungeons & Dragons), who does everything he can to convince us he’s a grizzled New York cop. But the combination of a hammy accent and an unnecessarily forced gravelly voice makes him a joke. Speaking of jokes, how about Steven Berkoff (Legionnaire) as the mob boss who moonlights as a fire-and-brimstone southern preacher? His performance is part Boss Hogg and part Yosemite Sam, and his gigantic hair is a monstrous combination of Elvis, Little Richard, and Kai from Lexx. You’re right—perhaps the character is intended to be humorous. But he’s so outrageous and cartoony, he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. That reminds me, just where is this movie supposed to take place? It’s all very urban, with the New York cop—but then there’s the little southern-style church in one scene, and a lot of other accents sound suspiciously European.
Moving on, what are some smaller points we can discuss? That’s right, there is the wacky comedy sequence in which one of the thieves, Otis (Cle Bennett, Bait), goes undercover as a pot-smoking janitor. Not very funny and far too long, wasn’t it, class? It’s too bad, because the actor is obviously more talented than the material he’s been given here. How about some logical inconsistencies, like how our heroes keep saying they refuse to use guns, but then, later in the movie, have no problem pulling them out and waving them around? Or how if Payne’s character was a cop in real life, he wouldn’t last five seconds before getting thrown off the force for sexual harassment with all the lewd comments he makes? Or how the film keeps telling us how many days have gone by with little notes in the corner of the screen reading “Day 1,” Day 2,” and so on. There’s no ticking clock of any kind, so why would they keep telling us what day it is?
Put on your thinking caps, class, because here’s a tough question: What are some good things about Steal? Yes, good—the widescreen picture quality on the DVD is very nice. Sure, it’s grainy at times, but this is that intentionally-grainy look made popular by directors like Steven Soderbergh. For the most part, it suits the atmosphere the filmmakers were going for. The 5.1 sound is adequate, with no obvious problems. It’s hardly reference quality, though, which is a disappointment considering the potential for great sound during the action. For your further study, the disc has a short making-of feature where the actors mysteriously heap tons of praise onto director Gerard Pires. The only other extra is a trailer for Wes Craven Presents Dracula III: The Legacy, which we’ll no doubt discuss in a future class.
The idea of turning extreme sports types into action heroes might not be very original, but it could make for a fun movie if done right. Steal is not that movie.