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Some creatures can sting only once, but David Mamet characters sting again and again, just for the fun of it. The problem is, the fun tends to drain from Mamet’s double, triple, and quadruple crosses sooner than the writer-director realizes. Thus the protagonists of Heist are still staging cons long after most viewers are likely to have stopped caring who’s got the gold: mastermind Joe (Gene Hackman), cool-hand lieutenant Bobby (Delroy Lindo), “utility man” Pinky (Mamet regular Ricky Jay), or Joe’s wife, Fran (Rebecca Pidgeon, who’s Mrs. Mamet and an actress whose excruciating artificiality tops even her husband’s dialogue). The four crooks begin the film by committing a big robbery with one little slip—Joe gets immortalized on a security videotape—and now plan to retire. Their fence, Bergman (Danny DeVito, always a detriment to a film that doesn’t aspire to broad humor), insists that the gang do the proverbial one last job and sends along his nephew Jimmy (Sam Rockwell) to make sure Joe and company don’t hoodwink him. Of course, the thieves trick people compulsively, beginning with Jimmy and including all the suckers they deceive in the film’s big set piece: an elaborate robbery of gold ingots from a Swiss airliner that the gang stages by foiling airport security and setting off a diversionary explosion. (This sequence explains why the film wasn’t released soon after Sept. 11, as originally planned.) Once Joe and his crew have the gold, they have to keep it, all the while dissembling to nearly everyone and uttering the sort of Zen tough-guy koans that Mamet attempts to pass for macho patter. Joe is “so cool that when he goes to sleep, sheep count him,” but by the time Mamet has finished his smug intrigues, Heist is stone-cold. —Mark Jenkins