In keeping with its vibe of lovable larceny, The Art of the Steal is a retrograde exercise in bait-and-switch -- a Canadian film trying to pass itself off as American.
Its claim to Americana is the casting of sunsetting Yankee studs Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon as half-brothers in the business of art theft.
Russell's character, Crunch Calhoun, is a wheelman who has recently emerged from a stint in a Polish prison after Dillon's no-good semi-sibling Nicky left him holding the bag for a scam gone wrong.
Crunch's post-prison prospects don't look good. He "takes falls" and allows himself to become injured in the second-rate Evel Knievel show to which he has become attached. On the plus side, he does have a beautiful younger girlfriend named Lola (Katheryn Winnick submits to the underwritten eye-candy role here) as well as an enthusiastic "apprentice" named Francie (Jay Baruchel provides a few laughs and also walks the walk when it comes to supporting Canadian projects).
In short, Crunch is susceptible when Nicky reappears in his life with a scheme to steal an obscure and extremely rare book that, as described, is a half-brother to the Gutenberg Bible.
Crunch is not quick to trust Nicky once betrayed, especially since a heartfelt apology is not in the offing. ("Let's just say, hypothetically, I feel bad," Nicky offers.) But the prize is lucrative and Crunch is apparently assuaged by his other confederates, including his Uncle Paddy (Canuck mainstay Kenneth Welsh, simultaneously playing roguish and Irish) and a loyal French forger (Chris Diamantopoulos, hard to recognize after his last stint playing Moe in The Three Stooges).
Potentially troublesome to the scheme: A hot-tempered Canadian Interpol agent (Jason Jones) and his reluctant/sardonic ex-con adviser (Terence Stamp).
Writer-director Jonathan Sobol ignores the precise strictures of the heist movie, and is often unforgivably sloppy. Characters frequently undermine their own plans with foolish actions.
There is an elaborate scene in which Francie must smuggle the half-brothers across the Canada-U.S. border in the trunk of a car to make an appointment in Detroit. Later, Nicky just shows up in Detroit without any explanation as to how he got there. Why establish the hazards of sneaking across a border if you're going to completely ignore the process later? Dang, that's annoying.
Fortunately, as Sam Jackson once sagely observed in Pulp Fiction, personality goes a long way.
In the case of this movie, the personality-pluses are Russell, Dillon and Baruchel.
Russell has always been the kind of actor who does macho well, but also lampoons macho effectively when required, as he does here. (See also: Big Trouble in Little China.) Dillon plays straight well enough, but he has always makes an excellent sleaze. (See also: There's Something About Mary.)
As for Baruchel, even when he's playing a second banana in a pseudo-American Canfilm, the guy just brings the laughs. (See Baruchel crack up Russell in the end-credits bloopers of The Art of the Steal.)