“Lying and Stealing” is a caper comedy that works.
It’s just clever enough, passably witty, with a very cinematic milieu — high end “gray market” art theft — and ably carried off by Theo James, Emily Ratajkowski, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Fred Melamed.
No, none of them are household names — save for Ratajkowski, who is not known for her acting. But they share the load and make this “Thomas Crown Affair Lite” a pleasant ride.
James, of the “Divergent” series, shows off tall, cool handsome elegance thing he brings to your movie with good effect as Ivan, an art-savvy art thief who can pull off the five day stubble with a tuxedo look that makes him look like he “belongs.”
Fits right in with the gay art collecting couple’s cocktail party in honor of their favorite poet, in other words. Ivan makes his living “robbing the wealthy — cavalier, entitled and unsuspecting.”
We see him unplugging security cameras downstairs, swiping from the hosts’ (LA) wine cellar and pass it off as his “gift” to the party that he plainly was invited to. Only not.
Wait, there’s a Jeff Koons stainless steel rabbit statue! Out come the gloves, the inflatable rabbit replacement, and “Russell” gets to work.
That’s one of the minor glories of director/co-writer Matt Aselton’s film. He gets the heists right. And they’re always of “name” artists — “The Nose” by Alberto Giacometti is considered, Modigliani is left on the wall, Egon Schiele is just too, too tempting. But portable?
Smart thrillers always reward the viewer who knows a little something about the subject area they’re immersed in.
But that’s the party where Russell, as he calls himself, runs into Marguerite (Ratajkowski). They “meet cute” (not really).
“Is that your real name?”
She’s sexy, salty, “an actress” given to asking a lot of questions and showing just enough skin. She’s sizing him up, but he and we are in the dark as to what her deal is.
Ivan has a Mr. Big, Dmitri, who commissions the thefts and explains his relationship with Ivan in a single sentence.
“Your father was into me for quite a bit.”
Melamed, used to great effect in comedies such as “A Serious Man,” “Hail, Caesar!” and “In a World…” brings a warm, urbane touch to this obese, sophisticated thug.
“You have to make hay while the sun shines!” Pity they made him Greek, as he’s the perfect actor (a voice-over veteran) to recite the Yiddish proverb that opens “Lying and Stealing.”
“When a thief kisses you, count your teeth.”
Isiah Whitlock Jr. is an amusing “shaking farts out of sheets” deadpan F.B.I. agent sniffing around these thefts, and Ebon Moss-Brachrach plays Ivan’s bipolar/addict brother, perhaps one character/plot-device too many, but he has his function here.
“Lying” is mostly watching Ivan pose as limo drivers, “art consulants” and “boyfriends” as he scoots around High End LA, and into the Sierra Nevadas and Santa Anita racetrack in his ’80s Buick Grand National (black, of course), planning or carrying out his next burglary.
We and Ivan puzzle out Elyse (Ratajkowski) and what game she’s up to, popping on a new wig, primping for the next party where she’ll stumble into Ivan as they rub shoulders with the folks he’s about to rob.
Ivan doesn’t see Elyse taking pains to hide the price tag on the new party dress inside the zipper, with the camera ogling her form — in slow motion — as she checks out her appearance and slips into the ancient diesel Mercedes she drives to these soirees.
Yeah, filmmakers can be a bit sexist that way. But give the people what they want, right?
The banter waxes and wanes a tad more than I’d like. And yes, “Lying and Stealing,” being a genre picture, is the 14,764th “one last job” movie.
But somewhere around the time Ivan shows us how to spirit a Philip Guston painting off the security-alarmed wall, out of its frame and into the lining of his tux jacket, I just went with it.
I think you will, too.
MPAA Rating:R for language, some sexual content/nudity, violence and drug use
Cast: Theo James, Emily Ratajkowski, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Fred Melamed
Credits: Directed by Matt Aselton, script by Matt Aselton and Adam Nagata. A Vertical Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:40