Monday, 24 June 2024

‘Heist 88’ a caper inspired by true story lacks sizzle




'HEIST 88' ON PARAMOUNT+ WITH SHOWTIME

Remember when the major networks produced made-for-TV movies on a regular basis? As they might say, that’s so last century. Since TV movies are all but gone from the networks, cable and streaming services are picking up the slack.

Paramount+ with Showtime are exclusively streaming “Heist 88,” an unbelievable story centered on Courtney B. Vance’s Jeremy Horne, an ostensible criminal mastermind with an innate ability to convince anyone to do just about anything.

The first scene has Horne at a Chicago bank teller’s window requesting the transfer of $80 million to a Swiss bank account, and then a quick flashback to three weeks earlier.

What brings Horne, wearing an ankle monitor because he’s due back in prison, to the Windy City is his brother’s funeral. There, he runs into his nephew Marshall (Bentley Green), an aspiring musician in hock to loan sharks for ten large.

Marshall was always warned to stay away from his Uncle Jeremy, advice he should have heeded since he would soon be drawn into the bank robbery scheme only because of desperation to pay off his debt to unsavory thugs.

Marshall introduces Horne to his three pals working at entry level bank jobs. Each one has some sort of grievance with their station at the job as well as in life. For Horne, they prove to be easy prey for his scheme.

Danny Pugh’s Xavier is a nerdy comic book collector who is brilliant with numbers but has given up on his job at the bank. Rick (Nican Robinson), a loyal employee, has toiled unnoticed in the back room for six years with dreams of becoming a stockbroker.

The beautiful, bright LaDonna (Precious Way) is ambitious but largely invisible to superiors at the First Chicago Bank. However, she overhears her noxious boss relating how the bank will soon be computerized.

This bit of technological news is a key turning point of the plot. The plan to steal millions from various corporate accounts hinges on the complete lack of modern cybersecurity protocols.

Unlike the usual bank robbery, the heist is violence-free. The scheme revolves around wire transfers and telephonic confirmations. It’s not riveting stuff but it proves effective with the absence of computer tracking.

Aside from the four youthful conspirators, Horne gets an assist from his mentor and master safecracker Buddha Ray (Keith David), along with Keesha Sharp’s Bree Barnes, an elegant, smart, political consultant that possesses a criminal mind.

With a running time of less than an hour-and-a-half, “Heist 88” should move at a faster pace befitting a crime thriller where the caper itself should keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Alas, this is not that kind of movie. Courtney Vance’s morally-compromised slickster is mysterious enough that you wonder what tricks he might have up his sleeve if his careful plans ignite into a ball of combustible disaster.

Vance’s Jerome Horne, a charismatic conman, deftly used his wily magnetism to enlist impressionable young bank clerks in his scheme, but the more you think about his allure, it all seems so improbable.

Another troubling aspect of the film, other than how awkwardly the heist plays out, is that someone supposedly as crafty and smart as the master thief doesn’t seem to have a Plan B in place if the stratagem should prove to be flawed.

An aficionado of heist films might be drawn to “Heist 88” out of curiosity that the genesis for the plot is based on the real-life criminal exploits of Armand Moore who had the uncanny ability to lure unsuspecting ordinary persons into his illicit web.

With a background of crimes committed in Detroit, Moore was a career criminal with a knack of conning people with clean records to do his bidding. Just like in the movie, Moore engaged low-level bank employees for an embezzlement scheme.

For an apparently crafty mastermind, Moore proved to be incredibly imprudent when he and his cohorts went on a spending spree for expensive cars and luxury goods. A sensible person knows from watching crime shows that you lay low and don’t draw attention to yourself.

This review is not meant to give anyone ideas; you can get plenty of that watching TV crime shows. Moore almost pulled off the greatest bank heist in Chicago in 1988, but he wasn’t truly a criminal genius. When prison becomes a revolving door, you’re not that smart.

For all its flaws, the film doesn’t make the fictional Jeremy Horne the fool. But maybe, given his evident guile, Horne should have figured out the possibility of the story’s eventual denouement and not be caught flat-footed.

Ending rather abruptly in what seems to be a contrived situation, “Heist 88” feels like the filmmakers were on a tight budget where the funds ran out and they had to call it a wrap. At least, it's not a three-hour movie that wastes an entire evening.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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