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Steal (April 11/03)

After last year's one-two punch of absolute mediocrity (Deuces Wild and Fear Dot Com), it would've been reasonable to expect that Stephen Dorff would become a little more discriminating in selecting roles. Steal, though not nearly as bad as those two films, seems to indicate that Dorff is more interested in receiving top billing in a lousy movie than taking a supporting role in a good one.

Steal opens with a surprisingly exciting bank robbery/escape sequence, featuring a group of thieves making their getaway on rollerblades. Soon afterwards, we meet the team - Slim (Dorff), Alex (Karen Cliche), Frank (Steven McCarthy), and Otis (Cle Bennett). Their jubilation is short lived, though, once they're blackmailed by a mysterious man into pulling off a heist of his choosing; if they don't, he'll go to the police with some decidedly incriminating evidence. Meanwhile, Slim's begun a relationship with a cop named Karen (Natasha Henstridge) - though he's initially unaware of her profession and vice versa. Also thrown into the mix are obsessive police captain Jake Macgruder (Bruce Payne) and Surtayne (Steven Berkoff), a Texan who had $20 million worth of bearer bonds stolen from him by Slim and co.

Though there are some effective action sequences in Steal, there's not much else in the film worth recommending. Dorff proves that he's got charisma to spare, but he's once again trapped inside a poorly written character that even Tom Hanks would have difficulty breathing life into. Among the supporting cast, there aren't really any standouts - though British character actor Payne (best known for playing the villainous Charles Rain in Passenger 57) sports an American accent that's absolutely laughable. He's about as convincing as Apu was in that episode of The Simpsons where he was forced to shed his Indian accent to avoid deportation.

As outlandish as some of the stunt work is, there's a good portion that probably shouldn't have even been attempted. There's a sequence in which a particularly vile character is hit by a car, and it's clear that the production didn't have enough cash to do it right. Instead of looking brutally realistic, like that scene in Meet Joe Black when Brad Pitt gets pummeled by two cars, it just looks fuzzy and cartoonish. Speaking of elements that should've been excised from the film, the relationship between Dorff and Henstridge eventually winds up taking a turn that's right out of Heat. There's even a confrontation inside a restaurant where she tells him that she'll never quit hounding him, and that if she ever gets a chance to take him down, she won't like it but she'll do it. It's so blatantly similar to that legendary coffee shop tête-à-tête between DeNiro and Pacino in Heat that you've just got to roll your eyes. What were the writers thinking?

What really sinks Steal, though, is the character of Surtayne. As played by Berkoff (who's worked with Kubrick, for crying out loud!), Surtayne becomes the most annoying screen presence since Chris Rock in last year's Bad Company. Instead of imbuing the character with quirky nuances, Berkoff goes the most obvious and over-the-top route possible - turning Surtayne into a grab-bag of virtually every obnoxious trait you can think of. The character turns what should have been an enjoyable but forgettable action flick into a sporadically infuriating experience the likes of which even American Idol would be hard pressed to match.

out of

© David Nusair