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Flawless & r & & r & by MARYANN JOHANSON & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & n only the first few months of 2008, we've seen more than a couple of movies about daring robberies pulled off by little people. They feel cheated by life while some fat bastards have made out at their expense. Now it's time for some payback. Yeah, it's definitely something in the zeitgeist.





So we had Mad Money, about women overlooked by their male "betters" who decide to subvert the (seemingly) impressive security of a Federal Reserve bank. And we've had The Bank Job, about a gang of minor crooks hoodwinked into patsying a London bank-vault heist. And now we have Flawless, about a 1960 robbery of a London diamond storehouse that tries really, really hard to be relevant in a contemporary way and ends up being just sort of tepid and lukewarm: Yay for sticking it to the Man; Boo for being so dull about it.





Here's the deal: Demi Moore is Laura Quinn, the only female executive at a London diamond exchange in the era before Betty Friedan, back when women were supposed to be happy housewives and nothing more. Quinn keeps getting passed over for promotions that she clearly deserves -- she's smarter than half the guys she works with -- because, you know: She has a vagina. So she's prime pickin's for janitor Mr. Hobbs (Michael Caine), who thinks he's come up with a foolproof way to walk a hundred million dollars' worth of pretty rocks out of the exchange. He just needs the help of an executive who's unhappy enough to want to rip off the company.





First-time scriptwriter Edward Anderson and director Michael Radford (The Merchant of Venice) create a bit of intrigue when, over the course of a single overnight janitorial shift, Hobbs transports a lot of diamonds out of a secure vault. For a long stretch in the middle of the film, we don't know how he pulled it off. Though I thought I had guessed his method, I was uncertain enough -- and the film clever enough, at least in this small instance -- that I felt vindicated but not cheated to discover, in the end, that I was pretty much right. At least in this small aspect, Flawless kept me on the edge of my seat.





Caine's sweet, meek, put-upon old man is a tricksy-enough portrayal that whichever direction the actor took the character in would have been fascinating. Alas for poor Moore, though, who tries her best to be serious and actorly and professional and all, but ends up with a Miss Quinn who is all stiff and actorly and not even mildly interesting. Some of the blame for that, however, goes to Anderson and Radford. The opening montage of busy businesswomen striding importantly around London, talking urgently on their cell phones, emerging authoritatively from limos and the like imparts a sense that this will be more than merely a story about a clever theft, that it might have a little bit of something to say about being careful not to underestimate smart women. But Moore and the story she's trying to navigate Quinn through end up leaving the character high and dry. That might be dramatically acceptable in a story with a different point. But in Flawless, which wants to advance Quinn as its champion, it's not. (Rated PG-13)

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