Right off the bat, The Art of the Steal draws somewhat lofty comparisons thanks to its similarity to a host of minor-key crime capers, the best of which seem inspired by the late great Elmore Leonard (like Daniel Schechter’s deeply undervalued gem Life of Crime, which played in Toronto last year). What gave Leonard’s work that oddball jazzy vibe was his affinity for bare bones narration and healthy doses of sly humor.
Broad jokes were for the melodically tone-deaf. Leonard was into the crackling interplay between cons conning each other. Writer-director Jonathan Sobol (A Beginner’s Guide to Endings) dreams of the finer points and accidentally injects a nod to The Place Beyond the Pines by having Kurt Russell play a third-rate motorcycle daredevil and wheelman who serves time and then returns to the criminal world at the behest of his duplicitous brother (Matt Dillon) and their old gang to take on “one big final score.” While there are traces of hard humor (and how could it miss the mark with supporting work from Jay Baruchel and Terence Stamp), this Steal lacks the artful engagement between its lowlifes. Sobol wastes so much time setting up the scam, he forgets what it takes to score. (R) Grade: C+