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Gael García Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris star in a film inspired by a 1985 heist at Mexico’s renowned Museum of Anthropology. Vitagraph Films

Beguiling heist flick about two aging slackers who steal 140 artifacts from a Mexico City museum. Fun and quirky, but full of genuine emotion.

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If the words “heist flick” immediately make you think of a complex caper executed with minute precision and lots of twists, the beguiling “Museo” surely will catch you off guard. 

Now, whether you enjoy it? That’s another story. 

Loosely inspired by a real-life robbery at Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology in 1985, writer-director Alonso Ruizpalacios takes the crime and turns it into the kind of movie in which the big score — and it is quite breathtaking — isn’t the high point. 

Instead, that would be the friendship between the pair behind the theft of 140 priceless artifacts that originated from western Mexico. Benjamin and Juan are a couple of aging slackers who still live with their parents. They are in veterinary school and rather directionless, driving around the privileged suburb of Satélite and engaging in silly conversations about David Bowie. 

Benjamin (Leonardo Ortizgris) narrates the movie with a kind of low-key melancholy. A meek sort, he’s loyal and befuddled — he thinks Pink Floyd is a person, for example. He cares for his ailing father and worries about being away from him.

Juan (Gael García Bernal) is clearly the brains of the pair. His father is a doctor, and the family is comfortably well-off. Juan, however, is selfish and has a mean streak; he tells his young nephew just who is the person who actually brings presents into the family home on Christmas, to his sister's horror.

The two men have planned the robbery for Christmas Eve. It is relatively easy. Because of the holiday, security is light at the museum. It’s also the mid-‘80s, so it's not like the building is caper-proof. Ruizpalacios’ direction really shines here: As the heist continues, it grows to include a series of near-static shots (the actors stand still, like statues), which adds a surreal kind of magic. 

Once they have the treasures, including a jade mask that fascinates Juan, the question becomes what to do with them. One of their first tasks is to wash the artifacts in the bathroom sink with a toothbrush. It's painfully obvious these aren't two great criminal masterminds. 

The media is up in arms over the robbery, as is Juan’s father, who sees the crime as an affront to Mexico. Juan views it differently; someone initially had to steal them for them to wind up in a museum, didn’t they? A meeting with a British art dealer also brings out Juan’s patriotism. Why should these treasures wind up in England? They don’t even speak Spanish!

The movie evolves into a kind of road trip, as the two journey to Acapulco. Juan hooks up with a former adult-film actress (Leticia Brédice) while carting the artifacts around in a red backpack. He snorts a lot of cocaine and winds up frolicking on the beach; in another nifty touch, the film's sound becomes momentarily unsynchronized to show us just how high he is.  

There are other moments in which the film seems to turn in on itself in very meta fashion. At one point, Juan is mistaken for an unnamed movie star. Bernal nails the moment perfectly, like it's some kind of grand inside joke. 

Despite the quirky humor and the excitement of the heist, the film achieves its greatest resonance during its most humane moments: Juan and his uncle sit alone in the front of the Christmas tree, or Benjamin finally explodes after being pushed around. The characters feel real, not like mere stock figures in a caper adventure. 

That could be why moviegoers looking for the kind of zip found in an "Ocean's" movie may feel a bit lost at sea with "Museo" and its offbeat rhythms and quirky charms. But the rewards definitely will be greater, if you keep an open mind. 

Reach the reporter at randy.cordova@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8849. Twitter.com/randy_cordova. 

MORE REVIEWS:

‘Museo,’  4 stars

Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios.

Cast: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Bernardo Velasco.

Rating: Not rated. 

Note: At Harkins Valley Art. In Spanish and English with subtitles.

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

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