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Steal Big, Steal Little

Directed by Andrew Davis. Starring Andy Garcia, Alan Arkin, Rachel Ticotin, Joe Pantoliano, Ally Walker, Holland Taylor. (1995)

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Oct. 6, 1995

The tightly structured narrative of Andrew Davis' last film The Fugitive is definitely absent from Steal Big, Steal Little, his latest effort starring Andy Garcia as identical twins. Elements of screwball comedy and even a hint of Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World crop up from time to time, but the film needs more of a focus for it to succeed. While the fairy-tale element of the story about feuding twin brothers Ruben Partida Martinez and Robert Martin (nee Martinez) has its charms, the film's chaotic nature undercuts any type of moral that Davis may have hoped to communicate. Ruben and Robert are Latino brothers found and raised by eccentric artist and dancer Mona Rowland-Downey (played by Taylor, a dead ringer for Vanessa Redgrave), a wealthy and compassionate woman with a grand plan to open La Fortuna, her 40,000 acre ranch and estate in Santa Barbara, to the families who work the land. Having grown up with different ideas of success, Ruben and Robert disagree about the managing of the estate: Ruben supports Mona's plan, but Robert is more interested in selling the land to developers. When Mona dies and leaves Ruben as sole heir after discovering Robert's shady management of La Fortuna, Robert embarks on a plan to steal the land away from Ruben and the immigrant families who currently cultivate and live on the estate. Other plot lines abound as well: Ruben's reuniting with his wife Laura (Ticotin), his partnership and friendship with Laura's boss Lou Perilli (Arkin), his damaged friendship with his corrupt lawyer Eddie Agopian (Pantoliano), and an alleged affair with his sister-in-law Bonnie (Walker). Davis and co-writers Lee Blessing, Jeanne Blake, and Terry Kahn work hard to weave together these stories, but the film becomes a case study of how too many cooks can spoil the broth, or in this case, nearly the entire meal. Steal Big, Steal Little does work on other levels, however small. The natural richness of Santa Barbara's landscape and the kaleidoscope of colors in the sets and costumes establish a generally engaging and exuberant tone for the film. More impressive is the film's acting, and Garcia deserves credit for a convincing (and probably exhausting) portrayal of the ideologically-opposed brothers Ruben and Robert. Ticotin exudes an appealing strength as Ruben's estranged wife Laura, and Taylor's brief appearance as Mona is appropriately warm and flamboyant. Arkin's role as the fast-talking, faster-thinking used car dealer Lou showcases the actor's dogged and slightly offbeat wit. Acting and setting aside, though, Steal Big, Steal Little just can't seem to pull off the multiple story lines amidst its tale of brotherly love.

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