Heist movies that got away with it

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

December 09, 2004|By Patrick S. Pemberton | Patrick S. Pemberton,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

Writing a heist flick isn't so tough.

Start with a team of criminals (usually all male): There's the safe cracker (usually the most likable character - and the movie's biggest star), the computer expert (typically the nerd with a few funny lines) and the explosives guy (usually the loose cannon, who almost screws it all up).

Then define the prize - diamonds are always good, though famous paintings add a little class - and make sure one of the guys has a love interest who wants him to give up his life of crime.

There are variations, of course - as demonstrated by Ocean's Twelve, which opens tomorrow:

So you see - Hollywood isn't so predictable, after all.

Still, caper films are slick, clever and entertaining - even if formulaic.

Here are some of the better heist movies over the years:

Ocean's 11 (1960)

The loot: Cash from five Vegas casinos

The scheme: A group of World War II paratroopers reunite to knock off Sin City on New Year's Eve. This one isn't as sophisticated as the 2001 remake, but, hey - it's the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Deano sings "Ain't That a Kick in The Head?"

Best scene: After the gang orchestrates a citywide blackout, the bandits force their victims to sing "Auld Lang Syne" as they rip them off.

The Hot Rock (1972)

The loot: The Sahara Stone

The scheme: A team led by John Dortmunder (Robert Redford) sets out to steal a diamond from a Brooklyn art museum and return it to its rightful owner, a small African country. Dortmunder is forced to steal the rock four different times after each plot is comically foiled.

Best scene: The thieves must break into a jail with a helicopter flown by an inexperienced pilot.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

The loot: Jewelry store diamonds

The scheme: An American named Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes to London with her Nietzsche-quoting, English-hating boyfriend, Otto (Kevin Kline), to pull off a heist with two Brits, Ken and George. After George is arrested, Wanda must seduce his very proper English barrister (John Cleese) to find out where George stashed the loot.

Best scene: When animal-loving Ken tries to kill the only witness to the crime - an old lady - he mistakenly plucks off her Yorkshire terriers, prompting him to don a black arm band.

Quick Change (1990)

The loot: Money from a bank

The scheme: Dressed as a clown, a city planner named Grimm (Bill Murray) enlists the support of his pregnant girlfriend and childhood chum to rob a bank. After making absurd demands from inside the bank (a monster truck being one), the trio escapes disguised as hostages. Escaping New York is a different task, no thanks to a stick-up man, the mob and a bus driver who demands exact change.

Best scene: The trio casually walking away from police SWAT teams surrounding the bank.

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

The loot: Diamond store gems

The scheme: In Quentin Tarantino's debut film, the boss assembles a team of crooks (going by fake names like Mr. Pink, Mr. Orange and Mr. White) to pull off a heist. But when it goes down, the cops arrive a little too fast. Later, while hiding in a nearby warehouse, team members - including Steve Buscemi and Harvey Keitel - try to figure out who ratted them out.

Best scene: Mr. Blonde severs a kidnapped cop's ear while dancing to the song "Stuck in the Middle."

The Usual Suspects (1995)

The loot: $91 million worth of cocaine stashed in a freighter

The scheme: The big mystery here is: Who is Keyser Soze? After a group of cons are assembled for a police lineup, they conspire for a big score. In between, they talk of the near-mythical Soze, the unseen crime lord who's badder than bad. When the cocaine heist goes wrong, only a limping snitch named Verbal (Kevin Spacey) is around to tell the story.

Best scene: The surprising plot twist at the end.

Heat (1995)

The loot: Bank money

The scheme: In the opening scene, the bandits stage a dramatic armored car robbery, involving a semi and a tow truck. But Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) decides he will do one more heist - a New York City bank - before retiring to New Zealand. Al Pacino is the cop set on stopping him in this Michael Mann film.

Best scene: An intense shootout in downtown L.A.

The Score (2001)

The loot: A 17th-century French scepter stored in a Montreal customs house

The scheme: Marlon Brando is Max, the crime boss who pairs Nick Wells (Robert De Niro) and Jack Teller (Edward Norton). To get inside information, Jack poses as a handicapped and mentally disabled janitor at the customs house. Meanwhile, Nick, a jazz club owner, plans to get out of the business after one more heist. Alas, Jack turns out to be something less than a team player.

Best scene: Nick painstakingly crossing a ceiling, inches from surveillance cameras.

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