Crime capers have long been a staple element of the cinematic diet and often lent additional frivolity by charging a group amateurs with pulling of required larceny. That is very much the case in the unimaginatively titled comedy The Heist (2009) helmed by the director of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) and The Borrowers (1997), Peter Hewitt. It’s never particularly inventive stuff, though it adds an nicely original motive for the central robbery and has a trio of more-than-reliable performers as the bungling thieves that keep proceedings humorous, if never getting anywhere close to being uproariously funny.
Roger (Christopher Walken) is a security guard at an art museum living a frugal life with his wife Rose (Marcia Gay Harden). While she scrimps and saves for a long dreamt of holiday in Florida, Roger dreams of his favourite painting; enchanted by The Lonely Maiden. When the museum announces that the exhibit containing the painting is to be sold to a gallery in Copenhagen the world falls away beneath his feet – “Do you know how far away Copenhagen is?”
Disconsolate, Roger comes to learn that two fellow guards are also deeply connected to individual pieces that will be leaving, Charles (Morgan Freeman) and George (William H. Macy). Together, the trio decide to pull of the eponymous job during the transfer of the artworks between locations – not for financial gain, but so they never have to be parted with them. Things play out in very much the way the audience might with the ex-military George taking control of the planning despite his ineptitude, and the effete Charles avoiding the heavy lifting. Both their preparations and the burglary itself provide chuckles enough to keep things enjoyable.
Sadly, for such a caper to really excel, The Heist either needed to be a real riot or for the scheme they concoct to be fiendishly convoluted and to all somehow work out in the end thanks to their ingenuity. In this instance, it never really manages either of those, instead maintaining a gently comic tone that doesn’t disappoint but will hardly leave anyone in danger of split sides. Still, Roger’s relationship with Rose, Charles’ relationship with his cats, and George’s relationship with his sculpture are comical enough to maintain viewer interest until its nicely pitched conclusion.