Gérard Pirès opens his 2003 film Steal with a strange sequence involving extreme sports; police cars and the evading of capture following a robbery. The sequence, as well as Steal itself, predates the second Taxi sequel by a couple of months; itself a film that sets its stall out relatively early with a string of extreme sports altercations featuring Sylvestor Stallone evading capture and inserting a few neat stunts in the process for the Hell of it. Taxi 3's opening turned out to be purely in jest, a dream sequence appearing to send up your more typified dunderheaded action opening. Pirés' opening here is played straight, a brash and carelessly chaotic way to open what ends up being a stupefying dull; dumbo and ill conceived heist film-come-thriller more often than not resembling a more typical, more idiotic direct to video cut-and-thrust thriller you might find at the bottom of a DVD bin in a petrol station forecourt.
The irony is in that Pirés directed the first Taxi film, from 1998; the man, essentially a second unit director posing as a filmmaker, here responsible for churning out this piece of junk. Steal, or to give it its international release title in Riders, tells the tale of four young thieves dragged deeper into the world of crime when powerful men coerce them into working for them. The film is a mess and a half, with whatever Pirés picked up from working within that stable marked 'Luc Besson: the writer/producer' annoyingly resonating throughout in that the cops are unglamourous; the thieves-come-lowlifes quite the opposite; action and spectacle are granted gleaming and frustrating priority over story and character and all characters of a law enforcement nature are suitably corrupt or just ill-minded. The team of four is headed up by Stephen Dorff's Slim, he's the white male in a quartet additionally consisting of black male Otis (Bennett); attractive white female Alex (Cliche) and dopey hippie Frank, whom drives around in a (what else?) VW camper van, and he's played by Steven McCarthy.
The four of them are predominantly young, glamorous and good looking; their opening job seeing them rob a bank before escaping from many-a squad car by way of Rollerblade during which we're supposed to believe such things can outrun an automobile. The haul from the score is three hundred thousand dollars, but we must believe that they would carry on despite this sum; hell, if it's this easy - why not? Within the forces of law and order stands Bruce Payne's leering; chauvinistic; piggish police Lieutenant named Macgruder, consequently in charge of a room full of other droll; suited; unattractive officers out to catch Slim and his team of extreme sports indulging/bank robbing go-getters. New to the precinct is Natasha Henstridge's Karen, their initial meeting of which sees MacGruder actually pause his speech in front of everyone so as to make light of Henstridge's photogenic qualities as a low camera angle uncomfortably extenuates her lower figure.
The narrative sees Slim and his team forced into doing a job headed up by a scociopathic preacher from the Deep South named Surtayne (Berkoff, quite clearly playing the material for grins as those around him do so for grimaces) and with one of his own guys. If they refuse to do so, the preacher will somehow track them down; overwhelm them again and then turn them into human ice-lollies. Meanwhile, MacGruder is already using the crew for his own ill gain and Karen herself ends up getting romantically involved with Slim. The set up is purely an excuse to blow things up; have things crash into other things and just play out somewhat eccentric and alienating content that nobody with an I.Q. of double figures upwards ought to particularly take to. The film is dismissible nonsense; a really rather stupid exercise in second unit stuff which Pirés is clearly more interested in over anything else whatsoever, bar perhaps Henstridge's exterior qualities. Some highlights include: armoured vans crashing through meshed fences in slow motion; police cars landing already upturned onto the roofs of other police cars; people parachuting off of high bridges, upon which numerous action set pieces have already played out; as well as large, 18-wheeler trucks kicking up onto their sides riding along on half their wheels. I don't think Richard Stark, across the broad course of many of his heist orientated novels, ever inserted a scene in which his anti-heroic brainchild Parker ever rode a skateboard out of dodge.
Like many of Besson's films that he has both written and had a hand in funding, namely the Taxi franchise; the Transporter films and the first District 13 film; the piece is solely an exploration in style over all else, a vacuous exercise not in Parkour or the celebration of Jason Statham's manliness, but in extreme sports. Here, he has had little to do with the overall piece but his presence is in Pirés' ill-advised glamorisation of crime and criminals as well as his childish trivialisation of the sorts of dangers behind what the characters are involved in. On a closing note, and as many others have pointed out, the film's runtime in bolstered to the gargantuan length of 83 or so minutes by a few minutes of end credits informing us on who's to blame. Additionally, the extended use of slow motion throughout begs the question further still as to whether it was, indeed, a creative decision or whether it was one that spawned from a horror reaction in the edit room when the initial runtime was realised. Spritely; leering; repetitive and spasmodic nonsense, Steal is a film which will do exactly that to a designated length of time from your life.
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