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Director: Frank Oz
Producer: Gary Foster and Lee Rich
Written by: Kario Salen, Lem Dobbs, Scott Marshall Smith
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando

Rating: out of 5

Well... it doesnít suck. That is saying something in this summer of cinematic disappointment, but when thereís a cast of the caliber and candlepower that THE SCORE has, itís saying something rather depressing.

We first encounter Nick Wells (DeNiro) as heís cracking the safe in the super-sized trophy home of some nameless American. Mission accomplished, he returns by circuitous route to the beautiful and European-looking city of Montreal, where he is a mild-mannered jazz club owner. One thing that sets this movie apart from the rest of the summerís fare right away is that it is clearly meant for the grownups. Wells has nice thingsódark, polished wood things, Dean & DeLuca thingsóas cool and tasteful as the jazz in the background (and performances by Cassandra Wilson and Mose Allison). In walks Max, played by Brando, who looks for all the world like Sidney Greenstreet. (And come to think of it, this was staged like the scene early in CASABLANCA where Greenstreet drops by Rickís American Cafe to offer to buy out Humphrey Bogart.)

Max, of course, has an offer he thinks Nick canít refuseóto steal a priceless French national treasure from the Montreal Customs House. But when Nick does refuse, mainly because of his larcenous credoódonít shit where you eatóhe gets an unwelcome surprise visit from Jack Teller (Norton), the inside-man of the caper.

Here we have the potential for film fireworks. In one scene where Brando, DeNiro, and Norton are all together, I thought the top of my skull was going to lift right off, I shit you not. So where does all this potential incandescence lead?

To what appears to be an industrial training film on cool high-tech tools and how to use them to break into ultra-secure locations and steal stuff. For reasons I cannot grok, director Frank Oz made a movie that will thrill those who shiver with pleasure at the thought of an afternoon in a hardware store. Thereís no denying that high-tech gadgetry is cool and fun, but it does not a grownups movie make.

Character development does, and that is in surprisingly short supply here. DeNiroís character seems to define himself by his things, which appear to include his smart, beautiful much-younger girlfriend Diane (Bassett, serving as window dressing as the leadís girlfriend? Criminal.) The character of Max is a pretty empty vessel, but Brando fills it to the brim with all the weaselly charm he can muster. Only Jack Teller comes across as fully realized, but that may be because Norton is in his metier hereóroles involving dual personalities (PRIMAL FEAR, FIGHT CLUB)óand does an excellent job as a real mocoso.

Ultimately though, THE SCORE comes off as a demonstration of clever ideas and clever solutions to a problem, more like a Thinking Machine story than a movie. And letís just say that the punchline ending made the movie feel too much like a really lame, long setup just to get us there.

You could go further and do worse, especially in these sultry summer days when you might want to duck into an air-conditioned theater but might wish to avoid explosions or car chases. But if youíre primed to see a stylish, thrilling heist movie, skip this and rent RIFIFI.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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