Following the breakout success of 1992's Under Siege and 1993's The Fugitive, director Andrew Davis could have had his pick of just about any action movie project his heart desired. Instead he opted for Steal Big, Steal Little, a misguided comic morality play about twin brothers (both played by Andy Garcia) who battle over an enormous inheritance left to them by their adoptive mother. Bad career move. If this film is any indication, Davis should stick to action.
Steal Big, Steal Little has its share of charming moments, and Garcia is likable enough in the lead. But charm and congeniality go only so far. This film's script, for which four screenwriters (including Davis) share credit, and the story line, for which two other contributors (plus Davis) share billing, go off in a hundred different directions. The movie never remotely gels into a cohesive whole; instead it feels like a few dozen divergent ideas haphazardly strapped together by a contrived and artificial plot device.
Davis shoots for Frank Capra territory with his modern-day little-man-against-the-world fable. But while he succeeds in conjuring up an overall warmly humanistic tone, he fails to make a believable, compelling tale out of this muddled, idealistic ode to the multicultural American dream. Steal Big, Steal Little feels like a cross between the PC magic realism of The Milagro Beanfield War and the try-anything desperation of Chu Chu and the Philly Flash.
Mona, a super-wealthy landowner, dance enthusiast, and all-around liberal bohemian do-gooder, adopts orphaned twins of Mexican heritage. When Mona and her greedy businessman husband divorce, the twins split up as well. Ruben, who stays with Mom and keeps his Mexican surname, Martinez, grows up to be a man of the people. Robby, who lives with Dad, changes his last name to Martin and becomes a scheming greedhead. But in the first of many plot holes, as the film opens Robby is running Mona's estate. Why not Ruben? Because then there wouldn't be a movie.
Mona discovers that Robby has been stealing from her and has been planning to subdivide her pristine land and develop it after her death. So she fires Robby and replaces him with Ruben. Robby's plotting to regain the land by hook or by crook from his altruistic, civic-minded sibling forms the basis of the main plot.
But first Ruben must persuade his estranged wife, Laura (Rachel Ticotin looking confused throughout), to move back to Santa Barbara with him. She moved to Chicago when she discovered that Ruben had cheated on her with Robby's wife -- a charge Ruben vehemently denies. Anyway, Ruben finally persuades Laura to give him a second chance in Santa Barbara. Their reconciliation forms the basis of one subplot.
Laura's boss in Chicago is an ex-cop named Lou Perilli (Alan Arkin in yet another thankless supporting role destined to be lost in a sub-par film), who owns a car lot and owes money to a gangster named Nick Zingaro. Shortly after Laura moves out West, Lou follows suit and quickly establishes himself as Ruben's right-hand man. But just when he thinks he's got it made, Nick shows up. Confused yet? I still haven't even mentioned the traitorous childhood friend, or the corrupt judge, or the Japanese investor with the funny accent, or the pot-smoking sheriff, or the noble Mexican farmworkers, or the immigration raids, or the murderous billionaire investor, or Robby's relationship with his wife, or the myriad cases of mistaken identity.
Give Davis this much -- he's ambitious. Steal Big, Steal Little tries to tell dozens of small stories. Unfortunately, it does them all a disservice by not developing any of them properly. What a strange, jumbled mishmash from a man who appeared so adept at telling simple, tightly wound yarns with a bang.