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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Stealing Sinatra
Stealing Sinatra
Showtime // R // November 23, 2004
List Price: $26.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted April 10, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
You just don't steal from the Chairman of the Board

The Movie
This is a true story. In 1963, a crazy man named Barry Keenan (played in the film by David Arquette) borrowed $500 from Dean Torrence (of the popular pop group Jan and Dean), enlisted the help of his mother's ex-boyfriend (William H. Macy) and a down-on-his-luck fisherman, and kidnapped Frank Sinatra's son, looking to cash in on a big-time ransom. It's not the best plan for getting ahead in the world, but in Kennan's off-kilter mind, it certainly seemed like a good idea. Incredibly, it actually worked, as Keenan is now a millionaire, Frank Sinatra, Jr. remains locked firmly in his father's shadow, and all those involved in the plot ended up better off than they were before. Considering the story unfolded over 40 years ago, the rules about spoilers don't really apply here.

The movie, directed by Ron Underwood (City Slickers) follows the plot from beginning to end, sticking mainly with Keenan and his guys, as they prepare for the kidnapping, carry it out and then deal with the consequences. Things don't exactly go smoothly, as one might expect of a plan hatched by a madman, and the emotions and consciences of the men involved become stumbling blocks along the way. Keenan is the kind of leader a gang doesn't need, as he keeps his crew in the dark, or flat out lies to them. As a result, the doubts they have become harder and harder to ignore. But somehow, Keenan keeps it together, more out of luck than anything else.

Arquette turns in what is now a stereotypical performance for him, as a wacky and deranged, yet likable guy. There's nothing wrong with his performance, as it is exactly what was needed for the film, but it seems like he's playing himself, the wacky Arquette he's played in just about every movie he's been in. As Keenan's fisherman friend, Ryan Browning is a decent enough sidekick, but when he has to compete with Macy, the third part of the criminal trio, he may as well be an extra in the film. Macy takes a character who is basically just a good guy grabbing for the brass ring and turns him into a tragic hero of sorts, as the voice of reason in the crew. His every line just grabs attention as if it were written by the Bard or perhaps William Goldsman, thanks to his natural talent. Casting him was a coup for a movie of this scope and budget.

Keenan and his guys really didn't have an expectations going into the film, as most people never knew they existed, no less what they looked or sounded like. Now, Frank Sinatra and his son are a much different story. Thomas Ian Nicholas (American Pie) plays the stolen singer with the proper amount of nervousness and lack of confidence, while veteran character actor James Russo gives his Sinatra the proper amount of imitation without slipping into Phil Hartman territory. He may be Ol' Blue Eyes, but he's got the heart of a man who is a father when he's not behind a microphone or in front of a character.

There's another actor worth noting, but not for what he brings, but for what he isn't allowed to bring, and that's "Tracey Ullman Show" alumnus Sam McMurray, who plays one of the FBI agents working the kidnapping. His part is very small, and not nearly enough of a role for a comic of his ability. It's been a while since he's had a chance to really cut loose, which is extremely unfortunate for a comedy like this, which could have used someone with his timing to break past the subtle comedy into something more hilarious.

The DVD
There's no insert in the standard keepcase that Stealing Sinatra comes packaged in, so you'll have to consult the scene-selection menus to find your favorite moment. The scene selections have still previews and titles for each. After some animation in the opening, the still full-frame menus include audio options for English 5.1 and 2.0 tracks and a Spanish 2.0 selection as well. There are no subtitles, but the disc does have closed captioning.

The Quality
The film looks excellent, though the color palette is a bit red. The level of detail in the transfer is good, but not overwhelming, and there seems to be just the slightest bit of edge enhancement. Black levels are solid, and colors are nice and vivid. Dirt and damage aren't a problem, nor is grain, though there are some slight digital artifacts during the darker night scenes. This is a pretty good-looking film.

There are two soundtracks included, English 2.0 being the default, and 5.1 the other. If anyone can point out the difference, they deserve a job as a really important audio guy. I couldn't spot much of anything in the way of surround activity, as the entire film seems grounded in the center channel, with the exception of some source songs that get boosts in the rear speakers. Perhaps there was an authoring error. Either way, the audio on the two included tracks is without distortion, and sounds appropriate. Just don't expect anything better than you might get on the usual Showtime broadcast.

The Extras
Director Ron Underwood provided a feature-length audio commentary unlike most you've heard. As this film is based on a true story, instead of spending 96 minutes praising the actors (which he does for a short time) and talking about his shooting style, Underwood utilizes the majority of the track to explain the real events, pointing out where things were changed for the film and how he connected to the story when it originally happened. Armed with a book's worth of history, he fills in a large amount of the back story, which helps the audience get even more out of the main feature. He's a bit dry, but the information is definitely interesting.

A gag reel is included, though its not a laugh riot. If you're a huge fan of Macy and wanted to see more of him than ever before though, this is your chance. Text filmographies for the main players go with rather pointless four-pictures-to-a-screen photo galleries to fill out the Sinatra content. Also found on this disc are previews for three Showtime productions, "The L Word," Jack and Manhood. Oddly, all three are gay themed, which doesn't connect with the feature.

The Bottom Line
Macy is the bottom line for this film. Without him, it would be easy enough to skip this as just another cable TV movie. The plot is certainly interesting, and the performances on the part of the main cast are just fine, but it's Macy that makes the film one to truly sit back and enjoy, as his matter-of-fact acting ability gives the film an emotional center it needed to avoid becoming a parody. The DVD isn't exactly a special edition, but there's enough to get a bit more enjoyment out of it than the film alone might have provided. True crime fans, along with children of the '50s and '60s and Sinatra fans, will connect with the story, while everyone else should enjoy the more out-there ideas of the film.


Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow


*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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