'Finding Steve McQueen': Film Review

Never figures out what kind of film it wants to be.
3/15/2019

Travis Fimmel plays a real-life bank robber obsessed with the iconic movie star in this heist comedy directed by Mark Steven Johnson.

Don't be fooled by the title. Steve McQueen actually has very little to do with Mark Steven Johnson's heist comedy Finding Steve McQueen, other than the fact that the lead character is obsessed with the iconic movie star. It's rather Richard Nixon who improbably casts the longer shadow on the film, based on a real-life 1972 California bank robbery involving thieves who were looking for $30 million of illegal campaign funds supposedly stored there. Unfortunately, despite the fascinating story that provides its inspiration and a solid cast, the pic provides neither sufficient thrills nor humor to make it anything more than a minor diversion.

The story is framed as being told by Harry Barber (Travis Fimmel, Vikings), the sole member of the gang not to be captured right after the robbery. Harry is shown relating his past exploits eight years later to his girlfriend Molly (Rachael Taylor, Jessica Jones), who loves the film Bonnie and Clyde almost as much as Harry loves Bullitt. Harry, who styles himself like McQueen with a turtleneck sweater and souped-up Pontiac GTO, tells Molly of his involvement in the caper for which he's now wanted by the FBI.

The film alternates between scenes set in 1972, depicting the robbery planned by Harry's uncle Enzo (William Fichtner) and his motley crew of petty criminals based in Youngstown, Ohio, and years later, when Harry courts Molly. The caper was instigated by one of the criminals receiving a tip, supposedly from Jimmy Hoffa, no less, that the Nixon re-election campaign had the illegal funds stored in safety deposit boxes in the bank and would be in no position to declare it missing. The caper goes off smoothly if explosively enough, with the robbers blowing a hole in the vault ceiling and getting away with the loot. But a dogged FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) and his eager associate (Lily Rabe) manage to track them down through fingerprints left on dishes in their nearby hideout.

Screenwriters Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon seem mostly interested in the historical minutiae and eccentric characters involved in the story. Enzo is depicted as a rabid Nixon hater who periodically delivers angry rants about the president's misdeeds, and there's much chatter about Watergate. One of the supporting characters is Mark Felt (John Finn), the FBI Associate Director who would later be revealed as the informant known as Deep Throat.

But all of that is basically background information, not enough to fully prop up the proceedings. Nor is the central character, presented as a lovable doofus with a bizarre but harmless fixation on McQueen. The relationship that develops between Harry and Molly provides the most charming moments, with Fimmel and Taylor endearing as the star-crossed lovers. But the romantic elements don't fit in organically with the robbery storyline, giving the film a tonal inconsistency from which it never recovers.

Director Johnson (Ghost Rider, Daredevil) slathers on the period atmosphere, including a soundtrack filled with vintage pop hits, or at least the ones the producers could afford to license. The dialogue is also filled with '70s-era references, with the crooks discussing such things as the hotness of Sally Struthers' character on All in the Family and how the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull makes you never think about the birds in the same way again. Too much of the banter feels forced, especially as compared to the enjoyable dialogue in the scenes featuring the FBI agents in which Whitaker and Rabe display terrific chemistry together.

As with the perpetually cheerful, smiling Harry, Finding Steve McQueen seems desperately eager to please. But the pic, like the character, would be easier to take if it wasn't trying so hard.

Production companies: AMBI Group, Identity Films, Paradox Studios, Premiere Picture
Distributor: Momentum Pictures
Cast: Travis Fimmel, Rachael Taylor, William Fichtner, Forest Whitaker, Louis Lombardi, Rhys Coiro, Jake Weary, John Finn, Lily Rabe, Molly McQueen
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Screenwriters: Ken Hixon, Keith Sharon
Producers: Juan Antonio, Garcia Peredo, Alberto Burgeuno, Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Alexandra Klim, Anthony Mastromauro
Executive producers: David Rogers, Jason Garrett, Kim Winter, Matthew Halderman, Ali Jazayeri, Mikael Wiren, Mark Steven Johnson, Travis Fimmel
Director of photography: Jose David Montero
Production designer: Kirk M. Petruccelli
Editors: Julia Juaniz, Kathryn Himoff
Composer: Victor Reyes
Costume designer: Melissa Vargas
Casting: Scot Boland, Victoria Burrows

Rated R, 91 minutes