THE GOOD THIEF You’ve seen it before… but who cares?

The Good Thief

dir. Jordan

Opens Fri April 11

Various Theaters

Looking like Ichabod Crane, Nick Nolte shuffles onto the screen as a down-on-his-luck American ex-pat in Southern France. For Nolte, it's a role sent from Method Actors' heaven. He mutters and weaves between hard-luck reality and fantastical good fortune, juggling ethics, honor and debauchery like a strung-out Cat in the Hat. Perhaps because of Nolte's recent rocky past, he fills out the troubled central character of The Good Thief to a tee: a heroin addict and sleight-of-hand thief.

Some backstory: Two years ago, Nolte was nominated as best actor for his portrayal of a drunk in Affliction. But since then, his life has bottomed out. Last year, he was arrested for a DUI, and a mug shot was released showing Nolte looking like a three-day-old corpse. At the most recent Academy Awards, host Steve Martin flashed this same photo on a 50-foot-tall screen and made a few quips, making Nolte a joke in front of one billion viewers worldwide It's been tough times.

This familiarity between Nolte and his character, Bob, gives a certain thrill to The Good Thief--sort of like slowing down to look at a car wreck. In fact, this idea of interchanging reality and illusion runs strong through the entire film: Bob and his motley group plan to steal a collection of Picassos and Van Goghs on display as replicas in a Riviera casino. But that heist is just a decoy for the real robbery, manufactured to throw off the French police who tail Bob constantly. What's more, The Good Thief itself is a copy--a remake--of a haunting 1955 noir film, Bob Le Flambeur.

Yet, in spite of these attempts at clever, postmodern playfulness, The Good Thief is essentially a paint-by-number exercise. Like Ocean's Eleven, it's a motley crew of smooth talkers reuniting for one last big-time gig. Like Clooney in Out of Sight, Bob is not so much interested in the loot as the ethics and aesthetics of thieving.

In spite of its shortcomings in originality, The Good Thief is a charming, captivating watch--as long as it's been weeks since you last viewed a cat-and-mouse heist film.