Awful acting, horrible plot, barely decent action scenes, really nice bridge.

Released in 2002, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 28 Nov 2003 by Scott Morris
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Also known as Riders, amongst a bunch of other names, this is the latest from French director Gerard Pires. You may remember his name from the relatively successful Taxi, which is a minor masterwork of low budget action cinema. Marrying some great stunt driving with decent acting performances of a slightly silly plot, it had enough character for you to identify with the set upon taxi driver and was brash enough to be fun without becoming irritatingly stupid. Steal comes from a similar bloodline, but is very much the runt of the litter.

Slim (Stephen Dorff), Karen (Natasha Henstridge), Otis (Cle Bennett) and Frank (Steven McCarthy) are a group of extreme sports loving bank robbers. This is the sum total of what we learn about them. We're introduced to them robbing a bank, as is their want, and making a rollerblading getaway that isn't so much audacious as it is daft. Assigned to track down these funlovin' ne'er-do-wells is Lt. Macgruder (Bruce 'really not cut out to be an actor' Payne), who quickly turns out to not only be a misogynist asshole but as crooked as a three pound note. Thrown into this mix is Surtayne (Steven 'ought to consider a career change' Berkoff), a wig sporting, hellfire spewing, deep southern evangelist cum hitman / problem solver. There's a plot in there somewhere, although it's very much of the scribbled on the back of a fag packet variety.

In their first heist the gang make off with $20 mil in bearer bonds to their unanticipated delight, but to the shadowy underworld leader's displeasure. He hires Surtayne to track them down and coerce them into taking on more jobs to 'pay off their debt' to him, which is the tenuous set up for the remainder of the film's set piece action sequences.

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This plot, as I'm sure you don't need me to point out, both sucks and blows. Were this script a cheese it would probably be Cheesestrings - processed, inedible, undeserving of a place in this universe. Of course, some lacklustre scripts can be elevated by solid star performances (see Elf or Pirates of the Caribbean, for example).

This is not one of those films. Everyone involved acts as though they've never seen a camera before. When a movies best performance come from Natasha Henstridge and there are more actors involved than Natasha Henstridge there are issues present that ought to have been addressed before release to the general public. Stephen Dorff is at best inoffensive, Steven McCarthy is very definitely offensive, Cle Bennett and Steven Berkoff try and outdo themselves in the worst accents of the year stakes and it would be a wise idea to skip over Bruce Payne's performance entirely lest we wear out the puns based on the second half of his name. Allow me to repeat myself to make absolutely sure you there is no doubt in this matter - the acting is shockingly appalling.

It barely avoids being assigned along with all the rest of the cinematic clunkers by having some fairly competently handled action scenes. Occasionally it seems that the chase scene is a dying breed, a thing of the past only broken out for the occasional huge budget flick ala T3. It's good to see that some people still know how to shoot them, Pires showing a fair amount of dynamicism in his shots and with some crazy stunt driving going on it's easy to forgive it until someone starts talking again.

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Why we are supposed to care about any of this remains something of a mystery. Those whacky extreme sports robbers are introduced purely as robbers, without Pires taking the time to show them as the kind, benevolent, giving-to-charity orphanage saving robbers. Their motives are no purer than the supposed villains of the piece, but they are prettier so I suppose that makes them more likeable, all other things being equal. This doesn't make it any easier to give a flying monkeys uncle about whether they succeed or fail, live or die, laugh or cry, fall or fly, give up or try, starve or eat pie. Some deeper motivation might have glossed over some of the many cracks, but it remains sadly absent.

Ultimately no-one goes to see what is clearly advertised as a moronic extreme sports heist actioner expecting much in the way of plot or decent acting, although it's normally considered common courtesy to at least make some effort towards competency. Still, for the most part it does deliver on the action scenes and that's what those crazy kids want to see these days, isn't it? What this movie lacks in basic decency it makes up for by having one really, really nice bridge in. Beautiful bridge. Tall, over a river, lush greenery on both sides - lovely. A bridge for the ages.

That a bridge is the best thing in any movie is a little disappointing. Despite all this blatant negativity the film is not without the occasional bright spot and it's not quite as bad as it's been made out to be in the ever curmudgeonly British media, although it's only very slightly better and we'd still recommend staying the hell away from it.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Gerard Pires
Cast list:
Stephen Dorff (Slim)
Natasha Henstridge (Karen)
Bruce Payne (Lt. Macgruder)
Steven Berkoff (Surtayne)
Cle Bennett (Otis)
Karen Cliche (Alex)
Steven McCarthy (Frank)