Picks and Pans Review: Breaking in

updated 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Burt Reynolds, Casey Siemaszko

It's a pleasure to see Reynolds exercising his long-dormant acting abilities and to see him teaming up so engagingly with Siemaszko, a 28-year-old Chicagoan who has had small roles in Back to the Future and Stand by Me. It's such a pleasure that it almost doesn't matter that this film really isn't about much of anything.

Reynolds plays a 62-year-old burglar-safecracker, his oldest movie character yet. He's on a job when he runs into Siemaszko, who breaks into houses just for the thrill of it, so he can short-sheet the beds and read the mail. They team up and soon are pulling six-figure capers.

It's probably defensible, in the interests of entertainment and the furtherance of the buddy-movie concept, that director Bill (Local Hero) Forsyth and writer John (Matewan) Sayles have to make their audience sympathize with a couple of career criminals. So what if Reynolds and his cronies and the new crook on the job are portrayed as a lovable bunch of guys who make their living exploiting others? Still, it's unclear why Reynolds couldn't have been a more redeemable character—a brain surgeon teaching a young doctor or a lion tamer working with an apprentice. (Let's hope the answer is that it's easy to write crook characters, with all the tensions built in—not that Forsyth and Sayles are shallow enough to associate burglars with glamour.)

The characters' fecklessness allows Reynolds to be convincingly jaded and Siemaszko to be thoroughly callow. Reynolds seems at ease as a world-weary mentor. "It ain't love, kid," he tells Siemaszko after he hires a pair of hookers, "but it's as close as you and I are going to get." The lesson, which Reynolds repeats, is: "You learn by doing." Since the movie seems neither a safecracking how-to nor a parable about education, the script provides little help in explaining that point. The stars are left too much to their own devices, trying futilely to make their palsy-walsy eccentricities seem profound. (R)

From Our Partners