Movie review: 'Steve McQueen' film finds comedy in real-life bank heist

 
 
Updated 3/14/2019 11:07 AM
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  • Harry Barber (Travis Fimmel) initially hides his safecracking ways from girlfriend Molly (Rachael Taylor) in the film "Finding Steve McQueen."

    Harry Barber (Travis Fimmel) initially hides his safecracking ways from girlfriend Molly (Rachael Taylor) in the film "Finding Steve McQueen." Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

  • William Fichtner stars as the leader of an Ohio safecracker group in "Finding Steve McQueen."

    William Fichtner stars as the leader of an Ohio safecracker group in "Finding Steve McQueen." Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

"Finding Steve McQueen" -- ★ ★

The superficial, yet amusing, fact-based bank heist tale "Finding Steve McQueen" begs to be a full-out comedy.

Instead, director Mark Steven Johnson treats the film as an "Ocean's 11" sequel when it more closely resembles "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."

To that point, this gang of small-town Ohio safecrackers doesn't know how to use a newfangled dishwasher. So they leave unwashed glasses covered with their fingerprints to be found by the 125-plus FBI agents on their trail.

This shoulda-been-hilarious comedy features an utterly disarming performance by Australian actor Travis Fimmel. He plays Harry Barber, the last of seven safecrackers to be caught from a 1972 bank job that netted them millions.

He not-so-secretly yearns to be cool like movie star Steve McQueen. Harry resembles a goofy hybrid of Tony Curtis and Robert Conrad emanating a constant deer-in-the-headlights gaze into the camera, and into the eyes of his girlfriend Molly (Rachael Taylor).

Harry opens the movie in 1980 by confessing his true identity as a wanted man to a disbelieving Molly, the local sheriff's daughter. Really.

Then it's a brisk flashback to 1972 when Jimmy Hoffa tips off Ohio safecracker Enzo Rotella (William Fichtner) to a California bank holding $30 million in illegal funds for President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign.

Rotella recruits his nephew Harry and some old pals to knock off the United California Bank over a weekend when it will be closed, challenging a wily FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) and his associate (Lily Rabe) to investigate.

"Finding Steve McQueen" boasts impressive production designs with eye-popping recreations of 1980 and 1972 periods, complete with long-playing period pop songs that Johnson loves more than his movie does.

The screenplay by Ken Hixon and Keith Sharon (who got this story straight from the real Harry Barber over dinner at Denny's) shamelessly plays the nostalgia card for baby boomers.

Chocked with period pop culture references from music, movies and TV, the script has the safecrackers debating who's the hottest TV actress (Sally Struthers from "All in the Family" or Peggy Lipton from "Mod Squad"?) and talking trash about the latest movies.

This movie packs in so many boomer references that "Finding Steve McQueen" should have been based on the 1980s board game "Trivial Pursuit."

And, despite Johnson's reluctance to go full-throttle funny, Sharon's knack for pointing out the absurd triumphs.

After all, he also wrote "Grumpy Old Men."

• • •

Starring: Travis Fimmel, Rachael Taylor, William Fichtner, Lily Rabe, Rhys Coiro, Forest Whitaker

Directed by: Mark Steven Johnson

Other: A Momentum Pictures release. Exclusive at the Streets of Woodfield, Schaumburg. Rated R for language, violence. 90 minutes

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