Canadian writer-director Jonathan Sobol knows his heist movies - from Jules Dassin's 1955 masterpiece Rififi, to the 1969 British classic The Italian Job and its brash remake, not to mention the Ocean's 11 through 98 series.

He knows them inside out - and he recycles them shamelessly in his second feature, The Art of the Steal, an uneven, mildly amusing, and highly derivative flick featuring a wonderful, quirky cast as a crew of art thieves who run a complex scam on the art world, and on each other.

Set around the Canadian border between Detroit and Toronto, the story features Kurt Russell as Crunch "The Wheelman" Calhoun, a stunt motorcycle rider who teams up with his half-brother Nicky "Idea Man" Calhoun (Matt Dillon), their aging mentor Uncle "Rolodex" Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), and French painter and forger Guy "The Scratcher" de Cornet (Chris Diamantopoulos) to rip off a series of great works.

Yep, every character has a bombastic, if not downright annoying nickname - and each is introduced by a string of text racing down the screen, with racing stripe.

It gets a little exhausting: 25 minutes into the film and we feel as if we've met as many nicknames.

The Art of the Steal opens with an abortive scam to filch a Gauguin in Warsaw that ends with Nicky double-crossing his brother. After 51/2 years in a hellish Polish prison, Crunch is back in Detroit and married to a lovely woman, Lola "the Charm" (Katheryn Winnick), and barely scraping by doing cheesy faux Evel Knievel stunts.

After a tedious middle section, the Calhoun gang get back together for one last job and things finally get moving. Sight gags, witty dialogue, funny props, and a few plot twists keep things going at a nice pace.

The Art of the Steal won't, er, steal your heart, but it's enjoyable enough. Thanks are due to Terence Stamp for a lovely turn as a former thief, Interpol consultant, and master raconteur who keeps the film alive during its duller passages.

The Art of the Steal ** (out of four stars)

Directed by Jonathan Sobol. With Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon, Katheryn Winnick, Terence Stamp. Distributed by RADiUS-TWC.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.

Parent's guide: R (profanity, sexual innuendos, crude sight gags)

Playing at: The Roxy Theatre