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Ladrón que roba a ladrón

Ladrón que roba a ladrón
2007 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 98 min. / Street Date January 29, 2008 / 19.98
Starring Fernando Colunga, Miguel Varoni, Saúl Lisazo, Ivonne Montero, Oscar Torre, Ruben Garfias, Gabriel Soto, Julie Gonzalo, JoJo Henrickson, Sonya Smith, Richard Azurdia
Cinematography Adam Silver
Production Design Christopher Tandon
Art Direction Adam Mull
Film Editor Joe Menendez
Original Music Andrés Levin
Written by Jojo Henrickson
Produced byRoni Eguia Menendez, James M. McNamara, Ben Odell
Directed by Joe Menendez

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Every so often the Sunday newspaper supplements address the lack of movies being made for the growing Spanish speaking demographic in the United States. The 2007 feature film Ladrón que roba a ladrón ('A Thief who Robs a Thief') attempts to capture that market with an escapist crime caper tailored to the Latino audience. Described by one of its makers as "a poor man's Ocean's Eleven, Ladrón is entertainment that one might expect to see on a family-safe cable channel.


Pro confidence men Alejandro Toledo and Emilio Lopez (Fernando Colunga & Miguel Varoni) assemble a crew to rob the safe of Moctesuma 'Mocte' Valdez (Saúl Lisazo), a popular but evil infomercial baron whose phony creams and fake medicines defraud the Latino community of millions of dollars. Instead of hiring pros disguised as waiters and valets to infiltrate Mocte's mansion, Alejandro and Emilio recruit real working people and train them to be crooks. The plan is to use Valdez' society lawn party as cover. The thieves incite a janitor's strike at Valdez' high-rise office, so they can sneak in as scab labor and steal a needed key card. With tunnels to dig and security guards to distract, the caper needs split-second timing.

In the past fifteen years Spanish language television has changed almost completely. The enormously popular novelas now combine soap opera with lavish romantic adventures. The stars of Ladrón que roba a ladrón come straight from the Univision mold: both of the leading actors are novela notables, as are many of the supporting players. Fancy crook Alejandro is a dashing fellow with a great physique and a fancy haircut; he drives a hot new convertible. Moody Emilio sports a trendy ponytail and prefers classic cars. Both wear designer clothing, as does the slick television personality they want to bring down. Mocte Valdez lives in a gated mansion and sneers at the suckers who buy his worthless products.

The thieves recruit a standard assortment of working-class crooks. Rafa (Ruben Garfias) and his feisty daughter Rafaela (Ivonne Montero) rig the cars needed for the heist; Rafaela talks tough ("I've got the balls for the job!") but is basically a creampuff who wouldn't disturb a Disney audience. Comedy relief is handled by Miguelito (Oscar Torre), a wanna-be Cuban actor afflicted with stage fright in tense situations. Handsome muscleman Anival Cano (Gabriel Soto) digs tunnels and provides beefcake appeal. The always-essential electronics expert is Julio, played by screenwriter Jojo Henrickson. Capable actor Richard Azurdia gets the thankless role of the accountant Primitivo, an awkward dolt who tries to maul one of the leading ladies.

The film's title comes from an old proverb that states (at least in The Magnificent Seven) "a thief who steals from a thief is blessed for 100 years." The script makes its thieves into unlikely modern-day Robin Hoods, striking back at a greedy opportunist from within their own community. Mocte's infomercials sell the false hope that fat can be eliminated with a cream, lotions can grow hair or enhance various body parts, and cancer can be cured with a liquid from a bottle suitable for holy water. Although Alejandro and Emilio start the movie by freeing some illegal aliens from a wicked coyote, no distinction is made between illegals and legit U.S. citizens and residents. (small spoiler) To further ingratiate itself with its target audience, Ladrón ends with Mocte's thousands of customers receiving fat checks in the mail. The unenlightened lesson is that naïve consumers deserve unearned rewards.

The simple story moves quickly, yet takes pains to spell out every detail of the caper. Implying that a truck might be carrying stolen cash isn't enough; we need a dissolve to the interior to make sure. The unlikely heist depends on nobody noticing that tons of earth are being removed through a fake air conditioning unit. Mocte's guards cooperate by being easily distracted. Alejandro penetrates the mansion by seducing the family nanny, blonde Julie Gonzalo. A plot twist makes some of this couple's earlier scenes seem rather inconsistent.

The PG-13 rated Ladrón uses mild Spanish swearing but is otherwise very tame. Its gentlemen thieves are harmless, and the one illicit sexual relationship turns out to be a ruse. But the show may fill its intended commercial niche as non-exploitative entertainment that won't need heavy editing when it played on the Spanish TV networks. This is by no means the brightest thriller on the block, but as an educational service it rates a pass: too many people are fleeced by predatory scams like the ones pictured in Mocte's infomercials.

Lionsgate's DVD of Ladrón que roba a ladrón is a fine enhanced presentation of this upscale Spanish language production. The photography is pretty and Andrés Levin's active score sounds good in Dolby Digital. Subtitles are provided in both English and Spanish. Director Joe Menendez and writer Jojo Henrickson deliver a friendly audio commentary. In addition to featurettes on the filming and the recording of the music score, a selection of deleted scenes comes with additional director comment.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Ladrón que roba a ladrón rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 3, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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