This may come as something as a shock to many of you, but sometimes even the most minutely planned diamond heist can go horribly wrong. Grand Slam follows the formula to the letter right down to the doublecross at the end of things that you pretty much had to see coming, if only as a way to explain one character’s sudden change in behavior during the middle of the movie. The only way the movie could have turned out that would have genuinely surprised me was if the big steal was pulled off without a hitch and everyone got their fair share of the booty.
Still, if you’re the sort that who feels his or her heart race watching guys with sheens of sweat on their foreheads delicately maneuver around beams of light and constantly checking their time to make sure they’re on schedule as they attach suction cups and wires to a fancy safe, you’ll likely come away feeling like you’ve seen something worthwhile.
Combining a cast of over-the-hill American film legends (Edward G. Robinson and Janet Leigh) in search of a paycheck, a group of no name Euro actors with nothing else to do and Klaus Kinski, director Giuliano Montaldo (you may recall him as one of the four writers of the sword and sandal epic Duel Of The Champions, but if you do, you’re just nuts), valiantly attempts to distract us from his unremarkable story by taking us on location to Rio during Carnival.
The sights and sounds of merrymaking fill the streets as our crew of assembled experts go in and out of manhole covers, swing across the boulevard on wires, and coat the wheels of a safe in shaving cream to soundlessly move it here and there. They even use the noise the fireworks generate to cover up the little explosions their plan requires them to set off.
Robinson plays James Anders, a teacher at a school in Rio across the street from where millions of dollars in diamonds are brought in twice a year. He’s just retired and returns to the United States where he looks up his old pal from the neighborhood that he hasn’t seen in several decades.
This buddy of his turns out to be the kingpin of crime in New York and as soon as Anders tells him he’s got a plan to loot these diamonds, and just like that the kingpin immediately signs on, offering the use of his vast network of experts to help him pull the job off.
Anders needs four guys to make up his all-star thief team: a killer, an electrician, a safecracker, and a playboy. Understand though, that within their respective fields, these guys have to be the very best at what they do. Which is why I couldn’t figure out why the electrician was taking lip from an old hag while he was repairing toys, why the safe cracker was some guy’s butler, and why the assassin looked like he was working as a stunt man.
Once in Rio, everyone goes to work. The safecracker and electrician team up to figure out how to defeat the various security efforts surrounding the safe and the playboy goes about romancing Janet Leigh who works where the diamonds are kept. He needs to get inside her panties so that he can get inside her purse and get this special key she has that will help get them into the safe. The only problem for him is that she’s wearing coke bottle glasses, has her hair tied up in an ugly-girl do, and is ice cold to his advances.
More problems crop up when it’s discovered that the diamond owners have gone the extra mile and installed a brand new alarm called the Grand Slam (it had a model number, but since that wasn’t part of the movie’s title I didn’t remember it). The Grand Slam can detect any bit of sound above something like 14 decibels. Though I’m not positive, I believe that would be right about the level of a gentle fart. Hopefully, Klaus didn’t have Mexican right before the big caper!
As expected, the second half of the movie shows us the heist in detail with scenes of the safecracker and electrician getting into the safe with all their crazy gadgets (check out the ladder that sticks to the ceiling and automatically unfolds so that they can crawl over top of the light beams!), Kinski running around the sewers and streets shuttling the key back and forth, and the playboy whispering sweet nothings into Janet’s ear while trying to remember what key chain the key goes back onto after they’re done with it.
If you like watching guys catch stuff before it falls to the floor setting off the alarm and breathing big sighs of relief, you’re going to get all that in spades. If you think you’re going to see anything particularly fresh, character or plot wise, you’ll be left wanting. None of the people involved demonstrate any kind of personality so any interest you have in whether they are successful or not is purely clinical.
It’s a nice looking, colorful movie (though hampered by really bad blue screen effects at the very beginning when Anders is at the airport) with a heist that while well detailed, doesn’t manage to maintain any consistent tension, mostly because we’re waiting for the doublecross that’s sure to happen at its conclusion. I’d say it’s more of a long single than a grand slam.
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