MEN AT WORK 

The Score is pointless

When I make my movie, the thief/detective/government operative will be performing his next-to-last job. That way, there will be no angst; all will be nice and easy. Indeed, The Score begins with the hero on his next-to-last job, but it s not easy. It s hard. There s tinkering and drilling and an innocent pot- smoker is threatened. Robert De Niro stars as Nick, a professional thief living in Montreal. He s made a nice living. He s got a swell little jazz club, a fine apartment, and an even finer girlfriend in Diane (Angela Bassett). And while he can still crack a safe like a pecan shell, he s grown weary. And he s wary of the latest offer from Max (Marlon Brando), his middleman. What Max proposes violates two of Nick s hard and fast rules: work alone and never work in your own backyard. The Score? Steal an ancient and priceless scepter locked away in the Montreal customs house, with the help of Jack (Edward Norton), a nobody from nowhere, as Nick sees it. Yet the reward is too rich to resist. Nick can retire and pay off the bar and live with Diane a perfectly humdrum existence. So he signs on and works with Jack, figuring out all the custom house s nooks and studying the latest in safe technology. It will be a precision affair, where timing is everything and the man holding the watch is Jack, who is still trying to earn Nick s trust. As a movie plot, the plight of the man who wishes to go out with either a bang or a whisper, as the case may be, must be in the double digits now. This isn t an issue if a film s got the goods -- a pizzazzy story, smart performances, wicked action. The Score doesn t quite have it, despite its pedigree of De Niro, Basset, Norton, and Brando. There are some bright moments that never really add up to momentum. The film gets bogged down in the planning stage, coming off slowly and carefully, just like Nick, and where s the excitement in that? There are no real complaints about the performances. While Bassett is hardly on-screen, Brando comes off as Capote-esque, looking pleased at the change of scenery. And Norton, as the raw thief, is too cool to betray any eagerness. Yet when he gets slapped down time and time again by Nick, the wounded pride flashing across his face gives a hint of what he s about. When it comes to De Niro, he s as stable as ever, though he seems rather long in the tooth to be performing the cat-burglar gymnastics of this part. It isn t until the very end that De Niro s strength comes through, and it s all mental as he taunts his charge Jack, who never really appreciated that old line about minding your elders.

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