Three Oscar winners and an Oscar nominee walk onto a set to make a funny movie — wait, stop snickering. This isn’t a joke. Though if it were, the punchline would go something like “and it wasn’t funny.” Ba-dum-bum. Be here all week. Kindly tip the waitress, and don’t even think of pulling a drink-and-dash.
Really, there’s no kinder way to say it: The only thing remarkable about “The Maiden Heist” is how unremarkable the film is. (Although the fact Peter Hewitt’s mild-mannered caper comedy got released at all should is astonishing, since distributor Yari Film Group filed for bankruptcy last December.) With this kind of mind-blowing star power — Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken, William H. Macy and Marcia Gay Harden? In the same movie? — the potential seems limitless. It isn’t. These four try hard to rise above the limitations of the unthrilling plot and the lackluster script, yet they succeed only sporadically. How can this be? I suppose even Nelson Mandela needs a breather now and again.
But back to that “unthrilling plot.” It revolves around a surprisingly humdrum art heist scheme cooked up by two Boston museum security guards, Roger (Walken) and Charles (Freeman), after they hear their two favorite paintings will be transferred to a collection in Denmark. For men who’ve spent 30 years memorizing every brush stroke, absorbing every nuance in these works, this is unimaginable. Roger’s efforts to convince his wife Rose (Harden) to move to Denmark — he’s certain the weather is delightful “for a few weeks every year” — are fruitless. So he and Charles enlist the help of another guard George (Macy), whose deep love for a certain bronze sculpture inspires him nightly to get naked and pose beside it (“I don’t know what you think you saw, but I’m a happily married man!” he insists). Security tapes don’t lie, and while the jig is up, his pants are down.
Heist plans are mapped out, and hijinks ensue. (Bungled capers seem to follow Macy like lost puppies, no?) What began as a sneak-and-steal manuever turns into a beast of a plan that involves commissioning forgeries and switching them with the originals during the collection move. Enter a complication involving Rose, who won’t quit nagging about that trip to Florida Roger promised her. A naked man ends up in a crate that ends up in the back of the wrong van. But we should expect as much. The film’s tagline warns us these three are “bad thieves.”
Still, this is a comedy, though, so at least the fumbles are comical, right? Sometimes, at least when Macy is the one doing the fumbling in “The Maiden Heist.” He specializes in playing men with Napoleon-sized egos and Foghorn Leghorn-sized brains. Even makes these dolts seem likable, which George is. His belief that old-timers like Walken and Freeman can rappel down a brick wall is good for a chuckle; watching him do it is priceless. Macy even hams it up (well, as much as he can “ham up” anything) in the Big Switch scene, providing the bulk of the film’s precious few sidesplitting moments.
Walken and Freeman, on the other hand, make with the quiet humor. Well, they try, and sometimes they have their moments. Walken manages to give a smidge of depth to Roger, showing us a man who’s channeled his whole life into a painting to escape his own reality. He identifies with the subject of his cherised painting “The Maiden Heist” because she, like him, is filled with “desperate longing and overwhelming passion.” They are kindred spirits. Charlie and George are more of a mystery, with scriptwriter Michael LeSeiur devoting less time to their stories. Yet Freeman and Macy make these characterse mildly interesting in different ways: Charlie for the timidity inhibiting his artistic talent, and Macy for the blustering that masks his timidity. Harden’s a different story; she has no business in a role this flat. Even an actress with her gifts can’t turn Rose from a shrew into anything better. In a nutshell, that’s the problem with “The Maiden Heist”: All these talents make the movie halfway enjoyable, but they can’t make it as good as it should be.