'Lying and Stealing': Film Review

Lying and Stealing Still 2 - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
More like fibbing and borrowing.

Theo James and Emily Ratajkowski star in Matt Aselton's comic heist thriller.

A thief who just wants to make one last big score so he can get out of the illicit business for good. A sexy female con artist who's more than his match when it comes to ripping off clueless rich people. These are the ultra-familiar lead characters of Matt Aselton's comic heist thriller that only serves to remind you of its many, far better predecessors in the overworked genre. Starring Theo James and Emily Ratajkowski, who bring the requisite good looks if not much charm to their roles, Lying and Stealing is unlikely to erase your memories of such classics as To Catch a Thief or The Thomas Crown Affair. When a caper film begins by quoting Willie Sutton's famous if apocryphal line about why he robbed banks ("Because that's where the money is"), you know that originality will be in short supply.

James plays Ivan, an art thief who has the knowledge and love of his chosen form of loot that makes him particularly successful at his nefarious pursuits. He also looks great in a well-tailored tuxedo, which makes him blend in effortlessly at the ritzy parties where he scopes out his prospective victims. During one of these soirees he meets Elyse (Ratajkowski), who looks equally good in her designer dresses. As he keeps running into her again and again, Ivan soon realizes that Elyse, who goes by several names, is a kindred criminal spirit.  

As is often the case with this sort of film if not real life, Ivan is motivated not by greed but rather the necessity to pay off his late father's gambling debts. He's basically working for rapacious Dmitri (Fred Melamed, oozing sleaziness), whose latest assignment for Ivan is to steal a self-portrait painted by Adolf Hitler, owned by a Nazi memorabilia aficionado who has a very personal fondness for his collection.

The film benefits from the many details about real-life art sprinkled throughout the screenplay co-written by Aselton and Adam Nagata. Rather than the imaginary artworks that you would expect, Theo, who repeatedly cites his academic credentials in art history, goes after the real thing, including pieces by the likes of Giacometti and Koons. Audience members will at least come away knowing a little more about the subject than when they went in, or better prepared to pretend as if they do.

There are subplots that don't particularly pay off, such as Ivan's troubled relationship with his bipolar brother (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who's struggling with addiction problems, and others that do, like the interactions between Ivan and the droll FBI agent (played in funnily deadpan fashion by Isiah Whitlock Jr.) who's hot on his trail. Melamed's villainous Dmitri is more off-putting than amusing, however, and the darker, more violent plot elements that come late in the film don't mesh well with the general breeziness permeating most of the proceedings.

Lying and Stealing might have been more effective if its two leads had more charisma, but James is mostly bland and Ratajkowski never quite convinces as a woman of mystery. This is the sort of lighthearted exercise that requires genuine star power to overcome its triviality, and the lack of it here seriously diminishes its impact.  

Production: Ivan and Elyse Pictures
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Theo James, Emily Ratajkowski, Fred Melamed, Ebon Moss-Bacharach, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Evan Handler
Director: Matt Aselton
Screenwriters: Matt Aselton, Adam Nagata
Producers: Michael Costigan, Naomi Despres, Mohamed Alrafi, Matt Aselton
Executive producers: Theo James, Christopher Tricarico
Director of photography: Corey Walter
Production designer: David Batchelor Wilson
Editor: Geoff Hounsell
Composers: Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
Costume designer: Natalie O'Brien
Casting: Amey Rene

Rated R, 100 minutes