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Rip it Off (June 7/03)

The odd thing about Rip it Off is that once you get past the virtually unwatchable first half, everything that follows isn't all that bad.

Part of what makes much of Rip it Off's opening hour so unappealing is the introduction of a smattering of unbelievably obnoxious characters. We meet two Russian criminals, Sergei and Yuri (played by Brian McCardie and Alexis Denisof), who are planning a casino heist with a disgruntled employee named Troy (Steve Harris). The addition of two dirty cops (Todd Field and Michael Cole) seems to ensure everything should go off without a hitch, but there's only one problem: The recently dumped girlfriends of the two Russians, Misha and Lexi (Nastassja Kinski and Alyson Hannigan), along with a friend of theirs named Helena (Jennifer Esposito), have decided to go after the loot themselves.

It's only when the three women begin to plot that the film finally becomes interesting. Everything involving the Russians is completely disastrous, mostly because these characters are like nails on a chalkboard. They're aggressive and headstrong, which would be fine if they were played by a couple of actors with even a hint of subtlety. But McCardie and Denisof seem to think acting as brash as they possible can is the only way to convince us of their seriousness. But in turning these two figures into over-the-top caricatures, all they've done is made certain sections of Rip it Off interminable.

Fortunately, those characters exit the picture about an hour in, and the movie becomes about the heist - and that's where the film finally becomes somewhat intriguing. Throughout the first hour, writer John McMahon spends a good amount of time setting up the fact that all three of these women aren't exactly rolling around in riches. The Esposito character, for example, has recently been kicked out by her cop boyfriend and now finds herself living in a tiny room above the salon she works in. It's the desperation to escape that kind of lifestyle that fuels this need to successfully pull off the heist, and the three actresses do a nice job of playing their respective characters.

It's impossible to recommend Rip it Off, as so much of it essentially sucks. But if you're willing to start the movie about an hour in, you'll probably have a good time with it.

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