2001-11-22 / Arts & Entertainment

Caper Crime Film Abounds With "Verbal Riffs"

Caper Crime Film Abounds With "Verbal Riffs"

Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito co-star in the caper movie, "Heist." cWarner Bros. PicturesGene Hackman and Danny DeVito co-star in the caper movie, "Heist." cWarner Bros. Pictures

By Matt Wolf

Associated Press Writer

"You know why the chicken crossed the road?’’ a thief asks, then quickly and dryly delivers: ``Because the road crossed the chicken.’’

The verbal minefield of David Mamet is back, this time with "Heist," a caper film that finds the ever-adventurous filmmaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist in exceedingly lively and original form.

Now on his eighth movie as writer-director, he hasn’t made just any old film in a genre that might seem well past its sell-by date.

In the past year alone, heists have been pulled off by Elvis impersonators (‘’3,000 Miles to Graceland’’), British mobsters (``Sexy Beast’’), computer hackers (``Swordfish’’) and gun-toting cheerleaders (``Sugar & Spice’’), to name a few.

But Mamet, whose credits include "State and Main" and "House of Games," has concocted his own cunning house of games out of a potentially familiar scenario and let his love of language do the rest. For all the action the movie affords, the verbal riffs are what one remembers most.

Gene Hackman, a newcomer to Mamet’s work, grasps Mamet’s world of bluffs and counter-bluffs, of evasion and circumlocution.

Playing a man aware that his glory days are behind him, the star holds his own alongside such Mamet veterans as Ricky Jay, and Mamet’s own wife, a gum-snapping Rebecca Pidgeon.

Mamet’s movies sometimes seem intended for an audience already steeped in the largely male, hard-boiled milieu of such Mamet works as "American Buffalo" and "Glengarry Glen Ross." But "Heist" is accessible even to the uninitiated.

For one thing, the film plunges headlong into the action, showing Joe and sidekicks Bobby Blane (Delroy Lindo) and the wonderfully named Pinky Pincus (Jay) at work robbing a jewelry store.

Having walked the shadier side of the street for years, Hackman’s Joe Moore wants nothing more than to retire but finds himself back in full tough-guy mode, overseeing a robbery of Swiss gold from a plane.

His nemesis? DeVito’s even shadier Mickey Bergman, who’s the sort of man to wield a gun while remarking, "I hate to do anything as dramatic as count to three.’’

Allegiances shift, as might be expected, and the most elaborately prepared plans exist to go awry.

But Hackman walks tall from beginning to end in a film about con artists, betrayal and gamesmanship - all of them favorite Mamet themes.

"Heist" is rated R for language and some violence. Running time: 107 minutes.

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