Love, Cheat & Steal
November 18, 2011
During the 1990’s, neo-noirs were all the rage with some good (The Hot Spot), some not so good (Malice) and some great (L.A. Confidential). Lie, Cheat & Steal (1993) falls somewhere in the middle with its cast of B-movie stars and paint-by-numbers plotting. That being said, it is a very watchable ensemble with the always interesting Eric Roberts, the beautiful Madchen Amick, and consummate character actor John Lithgow.
Lauren (Amick) is a beautiful young woman who has recently married Paul Harrington (Lithgow), an older rich man. With the help of his eccentric cellmate (Edson), Reno Adams (Roberts) busts out of prison (disguised as guards no less) and seeks out Lauren, his wife and former partner in crime. Before you know it, Lauren finds herself in way over her head as Reno forces her to rob the bank Paul manages. Several plot twists and double-crosses ensue in typical neo-noir fashion.
John Lithgow is well-cast as the nice guy patsy caught under his new wife’s bewitching spell. Fresh from her breakout role in the television show Twin Peaks, Madchen Amick plays the leggy femme fatale with a knack for leading men astray. Cult character actor Richard Edson even has a small but memorable role as a hayseed idiot savant who broke out of prison with Reno. But the film belongs to Eric Roberts who absolutely oozes menace as the vengeful escaped convict. He has the juiciest role and enjoys sinking his teeth into it. As he demonstrated early on in his career with his chilling turn in Star 80 (1983), the actor excels at playing amoral sociopaths and he essays another one in Love, Cheat & Steal. Only a few minutes in and Reno has already escaped from prison, killed two guards and had sex with some guy’s girlfriend. Roberts is clearly having a blast with the stock bad guy role, even quoting Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) at one point, and instilling it with his own unique brand of crazy swagger and charisma.
This kind of film is a parlor game as it keeps us guessing as to what everyone’s true motive is, who is going to double-cross who, and that it will revolve around the planning and execution of a crime – in this case, a bank heist. In a film like Love, Cheat & Steal, everybody has their own agenda, the true nature of which is only revealed during the climactic scene. This is a decent enough neo-noir but is missing that special something to distinguish it from so many others, with the notable exception of Roberts’ scheming career criminal.