Locarno International Film Festival

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Spanish director Jaime Marques Olarreaga's first feature "Thieves" has the look and feel of a Hollywood vehicle designed to launch its young leads -- Juan Jose Ballesta and Maria Valverde -- and that might work, though the film doesn't.

Screened here in the International Competition, "Thieves" is handsome and polished, shot in widescreen with a commercial soundtrack, and the leads are appealing. Warner Bros. International Spain is on board, and the film could thrive in Latin markets, but making a splash beyond that might be tough.

Alex (Ballesta) and Sara (Valverde) are the thieves. He was born to it, having a mother who is a pickpocket. She does it for kicks, having a wealthy father. They meet cute when he spots her pocketing a CD in a store, and they become partners in crime. He's a hunk, and she's a beauty. They make a lovely couple but lousy thieves.

The problem is that the film tries to make stealing wallets look sexy. But it remains petty theft, and the first time Alex and Sara go after a bigger prize, they bungle it badly.

The young man's fate is couched in romantic terms as he is left alone at age 7 when his idolized mother (Maria Ballesteros) is arrested after dipping into the pocket of a cop on a subway train. Spain's punishment of such crimes is evidently severe as Alex is next seen as a handsome young man emerging from foster care. Somehow Mom has kept their old apartment though she's not around, and he persuades the landlord to let him live there. Trained to cut hair, he gets a job at a barbershop. But the first time a customer complains, he elects to follow the family trade by stealing his wallet.

Spotting the attractive young Sara's clumsy attempts at shoplifting, he practically stalks her until winning her over with the promise of high excitement in picking pockets together. Meanwhile, Alex is trying to trace his mother through her suave fence, played by veteran Patrick Bauchau, and he crosses paths with some threatening street toughs.

Screenwriters Olarreaga and executive producer Juan Ibanez try to paper over the many cracks in a story that is really only about two beautiful young people falling for each other. Cinematographer David Azcona captures that well enough, and Ballesta and Valverde are no doubt destined for better things.

Pentagrama Films, Estudios Picasso Fabrica de Ficcion y Maestranza Films with the collaboration of Warner Bros. International Spain
Director: Jaime Marques Olarreaga
Screenwriters: Jaime Marques Olarreaga, Juan Ibanez
Story: Jamie Marques Olarreaga, Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Executive producer: Juan Ibanez
Director of photography: David Azcona
Production designer: Juan Botella
Music: Federico Jusid
Costume designer: Fernando Garcia
Editor: Ivan Aledo
Alex: Juan Jose Ballesta
Sara: Maria Valverde
Antique dealer: Patrick Bauchau
Alex's mother: Maria Ballesteros
Hairdresser: Carlos Kaniowsky
Running time -- 101 minutes
No MPAA rating