Two high-class thieves are seemingly unaware of the other's existence, until a near-priceless golden Aztec mask forces an unlikely union.
Vertigo might be Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but overall audiences preferred the Master’s thrillers to be liberally sprinkled with romantic comedy banter between murders and other edge of the seat delights. From the affectionate reference inherent in its English title, to the North By Northwest T-shirt its heroine wears in a latter scene, To Fool A Thief has every intention of positioning itself as a homage to the lighter side of Hitchcock (there’s also a James Bond and Get Smart joke thrown in for good measure). Hitchock’s shoes (pants?) are big ones to fill, but with material this smart and performances as breezy as this there’s no harm in trying. It won’t make any classic lists, but this Argentinean crowd-pleaser is always enjoyable as it pulls audiences along for a fun-time ride.
The opening 15 minutes is an extended meet cute which introduces two wily schemers. First there is debonair, gentleman thief, Sebastián (Daniel Hendler) from Buenos Aires which is the setting of the introductory museum robbery. His match, is the not-quite-so ditzy as she appears, Mariana (Valeria Bertuccelli) from Martinez, where the majority of the film’s action depicting a much more complicated heist, takes place. By the end of the first robbery’s aftermath, it’s plain that Sebastián hasn’t seen the last of Mariana and so he pursues her to her hometown.
Reunited, more or less against their will, Mariana and Sebastián team up to steal a rare bottle of Napoleonic wine called Chateau Verdoux (Chaplin reference anyone?) from an impenetrable Martinez bank, for rich oenophile Segundo Basile (Juan Leyrado) so the pair can repay him for their past indiscretions. Sebastián calls in his geeky tech assistant (can’t run an international criminal organisation without one), Chucho (Martin Piroyansky) and the three combine their sex, smarts and sophistication to get the world’s most expensive bottle of wine. The original title of To Fool A Thief is Vino Para Robar which translates as (They) Came to Steal, but it’s not hard to imagine that there is a deliberate play on the word “Vino” when so much of the plot revolves around a bottle of wine.
Given the way the initial museum robbery sets up Mariana and Sebastián as competitors, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are multiple crosses and double crosses to unfold (and there always seems like one more is just around the corner). Reformed actor, Adrián Garelik’s first feature script brims with filmic references, but he never lets that get in the way of his entertaining story. Though Garelik does seem to get tangled in the trip wires of logic from time to time. The script for To Fool a Thief makes a rough stab at plausibility and does play fast and loose with its motivations, so the best advice is “don’t ask too many questions”. Afterall, even Hitchcock was willing to admit of Vertigo, “that no one would go about killing someone in that way”.
The direction by Ariel Winograd is smooth and turns what is essentially a low-budget project into an attractive package. It may even be that Winograd has jettisoned some pertinent information for pacing purposes. Or it could be that the subtitles are merely inadequate. However, the evidence point to the scriptwriter being the party guilty of omitting relevant details.
Valeria Bertuccelli’s effervescent performance does a lot to charmingly paper over the script’s cracks. The antithesis to Hitchcock’s ice maidens (and Hollywood’s obsessions with blondes generally), Bertuccelli is great fun as Mariana plays both ends against the middle and keeps the film’s romantic comedy undertone flowing along. While Bertuccelli is more Family Plot’s Barbara Harris than To Catch A Thief’s Grace Kelly, Daniel Hendler who plays Sebastián is more Rod Taylor than Cary Grant. Nevertheless, Hendler exudes more charisma than Taylor and has a dry way of communicating his character’s impatience that ensures an audience’s sympathy.
And proving that it is never over until it is over, the closing credits are a fun throwback to the heady days of the 60s when comedy heists had their heyday and the credit sequences were like a pop art form onto themselves.