Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Lying and Stealing: Another Art History Major Gone Wrong

Parents do not let your children major in art history. If you believe what we see in movies, that degree only prepares students for one career: art thief. Of course, if they are successful, they will do quite nicely for themselves. Unfortunately, Ivan (the not-so-terrible) Warding is not in business for himself. He has been scoring hot objects d’art to pay off his late ne’er do well father’s gambling debts. However, he might be able to clear the books with two big scores, but he will need the help of a mystery woman to finish the job, because that is how capers work, especially in Matt Aselton’s Lying and Stealing, which opens this Friday in New York.

Warding loves to quote Willie Sutton, but he prefers to rob from silly rich art collectors. Since banks are Federally insured—that means by us taxpayers—we do not object to his strategy. As [bad] luck would have, moving stolen art on the grey market happens to be one of the other major ventures of Dimitri Maropakis, the bookie holding all the senior Warding’s IOUs. Ivan has been doing this for a while, so he expects to be Even-Steven soon. Of course, Maropakis is not exactly trust-worthy, but he offers the thief a deal. The first job is stealing a Hitler self-portrait from a twitchy and well-armed National Socialism memorabilia collector. The second job will be named later.

To further complicate Warding’s life, he is forced to take in his bipolar but smarter-than-he-looks brother Raymond, who has just been evicted from his halfway house. The FBI agent parked outside his apartment, Lyman Wilkers, is not helping much either. However, there is Elyse Tibladi, an attractive struggling actress and con artist, whom he keeps crossing paths with.

Theo James and Emily Ratajkowski are not exactly Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn in How to Steal a Million, but they have serviceable chemistry. James deserves particular credit for some solid comic timing and a rather decent leading man presence, exceeding viewer expectations quite a bit. Fred Melamed provides a memorable villain, chewing the scenery with flamboyant élan, as the hedonistic Maropakis. Isiah Whitlock Jr. also adds some welcome dry sarcasm as Wilkers.

L&S is a modest film, but it hums along at a healthy clip and manages to punch above its weight class. (Still, it should be noted the film is probably a tad more violent than it really should have been.) Likeably entertaining but nothing transcendent, Lying and Stealing opens this Friday (7/12) in New York, at the Cinema Village.