State of the 'Art'

State of the 'Art'

Kurt Russell brings old-school macho pizzazz to ‘Art of the Steal’

By Carl Kozlowski 03/13/2014

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There are some TV and movie stars who have a special kind of “cool” that never fades over decades, even as thousands of other actors come and go. Think of Jodie Foster, Mickey Rooney, Jackie Cooper, then think again, because the king of this crowd has to be Kurt Russell.    

Starring in Disney movies since the age of 7, Kurt is now 63. He transitioned out of working for Walt Disney and into working with horror and sci-fi master John Carpenter before finally appearing to have a solid career as a top-notch action hero in the 1990s. But then, aside from a bizarre role as an ultra-sleazy jerk who gets caught in a battle of wheels and words with some tough dames in Quentin Tarantino’s “Death Proof” portion of the 2007 anthology “Grindhouse,” Russell seemed to have disappeared from the spotlight for over a decade. 

Fear not; there’s plenty of life in the wisecracker, as he is currently filming a plum role in the next “Fast & Furious” movie. But an even better indicator of his star power lies in the new crime comedy “The Art of the Steal,” in which he gets to grin, punch, drive and outwit his way through an elaborate series of art heists as a motorcycle stuntman and art thief named Crunch Calhoun, alongside a truly fun cast that includes Matt Dillon, Terence Stamp and Jay Baruchel. 

The movie, a true surprise, is a rocket-fueled series of funny twists and turns that is inexplicably getting a limited release in places like the Laemmle art house theaters, including Pasadena’s own Laemmle Playhouse 7. It’s also available on Video On Demand (VOD) with cable systems like Time Warner, where I settled in to watch, expecting to see a bunch of has-beens and never-weres moping through the generic paces of a hackneyed plot. 

Instead, the film — written and directed by Jonathan Sobol — is an ace piece of work that gets off to a rip-roaring start with Russell being locked inside a Polish prison. He’s taking the fall for his brother Nicky (Dillon), who has a prior arrest on his record and will be locked away for 20 years if he goes down for their gang’s latest heist. 
Rounding up the old gang in a desperate move to make big money again, Crunch learns that Nicky is now a massive jerk who is utterly unappreciative for the huge sacrifice Crunch made for him. When Crunch decides to teach his little brother a lesson, he and his gang hatch a plan that involves stolen paintings, forgeries and a $20 million payoff that nails Nicky as well. 

I’ll leave the details for viewers to discover and enjoy, but the fun comes through on many levels. Russell appears to be having the time of his life as he flexes both his comedic chops and his action muscles, and that rubs off on Dillon, who is also delivering his best performance in the decade since he was nominated for an Oscar for “Crash.” 

Add in Baruchel, who’s building nicely on his huge surprise comeback in last year’s “This Is the End,” as Russell’s main sidekick, and veteran British ace Terence Stamp as an art expert who’s getting a piece of the pie from Crunch, and you’ve got a movie that offers a tasty slice of film fun in the vein of “Pulp Fiction,” only without being as gruesome. It’s not as profound, either, and it’s definitely not a Best Picture contender. But if you’re looking for some laughs, a script with pizzazz and actors bringing their whole movie-star razzle-dazzle to the screen, “The Art of the Steal” is state of the art for its genre.  

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