In a post Oceans 11 (and 12/13 etc) world, there is a certain expectation from heist films. They have to be witty and clever, or they have to action packed in the vein of a Fast & Furious movie. Either way, it would seem in order to work with that genre in the modern era you need to be able to offer a new spin on an old classic. Sadly, Lying and Stealing never quite figures out which category it fits in, and the result is a pretty confused mess.
Lying and Stealing is a crime caper of sorts, featuring professional art thief Ivan, who is indebted to a mobster (Dimitri AKA “The Greek”) based on his deceased father’s gambling debts. However, Ivan wants out of his life of crime and with his unstable brother now back living with him, he needs to find a way to be free of his arrangement with one last big score. Along the way he meets actress Elyse, and together they hatch a plan to change everything, but things hit a roadblock when an FBI agent gets involved and forces Ivan to go in a different direction.
A quick glance at the top billed cast members for Lying and Stealing should give you pause for thought. Theo James is a very handsome man who made a decent hash of his role as Four in the Divergent series. Emily Ratajkowski had a very solid turn in Gone Girl, but her acting ability doesn’t feel like it has been put to the test, and beyond that it is mostly bit part players. Fred Melamed is recognisable, but that’s about it. Not a great start, but the star quality of a film is not always the defining factor. However, you might think well there’s probably enough talent there that if they have some solid material to work with it could all come together and make for a decent crime thriller? Nope. The script is neither particularly bad nor good, or at least it seems that way, because very little seemed to happen in this film. Nothing stands out, but this is a ninety minute film filled with drab dialogue that did absolutely nothing to perk up my interest. It required a light touch, some strong one-liners and a balance of humour with drama, and it fails on all counts.
It can’t all be put on the script though, because the acting is as wooden as a canoe, especially from James who can’t simply coast on his looks here. Emily Ratajkowski is not much better. If anything, this film makes me more appreciative of the way films like Divergent and Gone Girl respectively hid the limitations of both leads. At points the lack of emotional range these two manage to exhibit is excruciating to watch, and it beggars belief that no-one involved recognised that there needed to be something more engaging. Melamed and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (as Ivan’s brother Ray) offer some stability and drag average up for the film, but with James and Ratajkowski getting so much screen time it is an uphill struggle.
The most egregious element of Lying and Stealing is the pacing, because when a 90-minute film feels like it lasts well over two hours, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere. Despite a very promising opening scene, I would struggle to remember much of anything else that happened in the film until the final twenty minutes and even then, that whole sequence didn’t seem like the end of the film simply because it was a far from satisfying conclusion. Perhaps if the filmmakers had settled on whether this was a comedy, a crime caper, a thriller, a heist movie or a romance it would have helped but because it has such a muddled identity it is very difficult for Lying and Stealing to hold the audience’s attention.
All in all, Lying and Stealing is not a very good film. I have seen some pretty bad films, and Lying and Stealing does something far worse than the average “bad” film. It is boring. The acting is wooden and the film does little to differentiate itself from the average run of the mill “theft/big score/heist” movie. Not great.