`Heist' moves quickly, says little

Movie reviews

November 09, 2001

Rated R (language, some violence). Sun score: ** 1/2

Heist is like an improved and streamlined version of last summer's The Score: The writer-director, David Mamet, doesn't even want The to slow down his title.

Gene Hackman stars as the canny thief who leads a lean, efficient crew including a stalwart partner (Delroy Lindo), an ace odd-job guy (Ricky Jay) and sometimes his svelte young wife (Rebecca Pidgeon). When his financier and fence (Danny DeVito) reneges on a pay-off unless Hackman's crew pulls another job, the screen is set for a game of cat and mouse. Make that alley-cat and sex kitten, since DeVito sends his nephew (Sam Rockwell) along as insurance, and this rising young man has eyes for Hackman's wife.

As in any group sport, the gang members' ability to read each other's signals and share strategy is as important as skills and strength. But seeing them execute a clever plan to steal Swiss bullion from a cargo plane is only as satisfying as watching a well-turned double play in a mediocre baseball game.

As in The Score, too much of an audience's emotional stake is based on our reflexive identification with the team leader as a man of wisdom and experience and our equally reflexive distrust of the young hot shot as a jittery smart aleck. (Hackman, who is also a master yacht-maker, wants this to be his last job - he's been photographed on a surveillance camera.)

In his trademark clipped, sardonic style, Mamet peppers the script with funny lines that are supposed to evoke character: Jay says Hackman is "so cool, when he goes to bed, sheep count him." But if we accept Hackman as a charismatic mastermind, it's mostly because of how beautifully Lindo and Jay express their loyalty to him.

What undercuts Hackman's performance and the movie is that Pidgeon provides too wan a presence as his wife. She doesn't shoot any pheromones into the atmosphere; she generates only a smidgen of static electricity when she rubs up against Rockwell. Patti LuPone has more personality as an alcoholic customs agent.

The movie's biggest jolt comes from none of the programmed surprises and betrayals, but from seeing Hackman and his crew dress up as guards at the airport. As a movie, Heist is merely an amiable time-killer. But it presents a terrific argument for federalizing airport security. -- Michael Sragow

Haiku Tunnel

Rated R (language). Sun score: ***

The Kornbluth Brothers' Haiku Tunnel is such an archingly perceptive and achingly funny take on the droning nature of the American workplace and how one misadjusted temp tries coming to terms with it, it's a shame the movie isn't about 30 minutes shorter.

Haiku Tunnel is very much like watching the comic strip Dilbert come to life. Josh Kornbluth plays "Josh" (in no ways similar to the real Josh, we're assured), a temp at a big-time law firm in the fictional city of San Franclisco. His boss, big-time tax lawyer Bob Shelby (Warren Keith) takes an immediate liking to his work ethic and offers to make him a "perm," or full-time employee. Josh agrees.

Big mistake. The work ethic disappears (Josh becomes obsessed with writing his novel during work hours), his co-workers become a distraction, and his neuroses become even more pronounced.

Josh takes to using his supervisor's answering machine as a psychotherapist, spends the better part of a day learning how to fix a copy-machine paper jam, convinces one of the firm's lawyers that he's a big-time tax attorney, too, and generally learns to regret his decision. And then there's these 17 important letters he keeps meaning to send ...

Haiku Tunnel delivers deliciously low blows at corporate America, office politics and the lengths people will go to avoid work. The film loses its way around the middle but moves back on target in time for a finish that should ring hilariously true for anyone who's ever had to spend their workday behind a desk. -- Chris Kaltenbach

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