This film is as dishonest as its subject matter, but if that doesn't bother you, it's a fun ride.
Street ThiefDirector: Malik Bader
Cast: Malik Bader
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Bader Bros.
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2007-09-25
Street Thief is a film that will leave you with many lingering questions. Is the story real or fake? What happened to Kaspar Karr? Why is 'Karr' spelled with a 'K' in the film, but with a 'C' on the DVD cover and all of the advertising? Did a proofreader fall asleep on the job?
All good questions. Unfortunately I am only able to answer one of them. The film, touted as a documentary, and preceded in the opening credits by the statement “A True Story”, is nonetheless, a totally fake story. Brothers Malik Bader (director and lead actor in the film) and Sam Bader (producer) had to sheepishly appear after their Chicago film festival debut and defend the veracity of their claim to the non-fiction genre upon Bader’s appearance. One would think this would be difficult, since Bader played Kaspar Karr, but the two apparently asserted (according to press coverage that evening) that everything the audience saw was real, that they know burglars who really do this stuff, and that this was in no way like other mockumentaries, notably the Blair Witch project.
Unfortunately, Bader’s physical similarity to Karr shouldn’t have been the first clue that the film was more mock than doc. The camera coverage and angles are far too planned out and well executed to be spur of the moment, and during climactic moments, the characters always seem just a little too scripted.
All this aside, this is a fun film worth watching in spite of its flaws. It’s a shame it wasn’t marketed a little more honestly, but we tend to be naïve at times, and we actually expect truth in advertising. While the camera angles and shots should prove to you in the first few minutes that what you’re watching has been scripted and directed, this is because the cinematography and film quality are excellent. A lot of love has also been put into the editing of the film, particularly the transitional sequences as we watch Karr move through his world. Indeed, this is a film made by people who love what they do.
Bader’s acting is another highlight. His lone wolf, in your face Karr is a chameleon (thanks to a vaguely ethnic appearance and an uncanny ability to grow facial hair rapidly) whom we are at once drawn to in spite of his antisocial thievery. Karr is just the type of criminal we love because we get to soar along on his adrenaline highs, no one is physically harmed (except for Karr himself) and we never see the victims of his crimes any closer than 100 yards away, so we can conveniently root for him with little discomfort. Oh, and he’s funny. And he swears a lot. He’s a classic American anti-hero.
The only real downfalls are found in the writing. The plot is solid for three-quarters of the film, introducing Karr and giving us the little background on his character that he’s willing to divulge, and following him as he cases out a few jobs. Unlike those unrealistic, glitzy heist films, Karr is not always immediately successful in his endeavors. He does hours of research which include overnight stakeouts, phone taps, and digging through trash. This attention to detail is what makes you question whether or not the story is authentic, even when you have the sneaking suspicion that it’s not. But as the climactic moments come, the plot and the writing seem to fall apart.
After pulling off his biggest job to date (hitting a suburban Cineplex he’s been staking out for months) and taking in $104k, Karr disappears and the documentarians following him are unable to locate him. They drive by his warehouse and see police cars everywhere; they call every police district in Chicago to see if he’s being held in jail, but to no avail. When he doesn’t turn up, and it appears that he is the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrator, this time, they decide to turn in their footage over to the police.
Eventually they unravel the likeliest story about Karr’s disappearance they can. This story ties back to an earlier job he pulled that seemed to make him unnaturally nervous. But while the attempt here is to make his disappearance mysterious, as it would be in a real documentary, it just doesn’t make much sense.
There’s also a totally unnecessary side plot that recurs throughout the film, where we cut to a prison inmate, a former associate of Karr’s, who led the filmmakers to Karr. The actor who plays this role is limited by both his script and his acting ability. Everything he says is clichéd or overdramatic, and he serves absolutely no purpose in the film, except to suggest that he may know something about Karr’s disappearance. But this allusion neither clears things up, nor adds to the mystery, and the plot would have been tighter and better off without him.
The DVD extras do little to explain the mystery, either. A 'making of' feature, that might have been really interesting, is absent (perhaps because Bader would have had to appear on screen as himself). And but one deleted scene, which is just a small extension of the opening scene, plus the trailer, do little to educate an interested viewer about the filming of the project, let alone the veracity of its story. In the end, this is a fun ride, but with some frustrating twists.