Heist on DVD

Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ricky Jay. Directed by David Mamet. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French). 109 minutes. 1999. Warner Video 21321. R. $24.98.

Joe Moore (Gene Hackman) is a crook who wants desperately to retire. But his fence (Danny DeVito) ropes him and his gang into doing one last big job. On this simple premise, writer-director David Mamet has built an elaborate caper movie.

If you like twists and turns, you'll like Heist. Mamet's quirky plotting and unique dialogue have made him a critical favorite, though I have to admit I turned off The Spanish Prisoner, an earlier Mamet film, halfway through. The words sounded oddly mannered and scripted, not like real people at all. Heist is different—I didn't know it was a Mamet film until the end credits. There's no quirkiness here, just a tight plot.

Maybe too tight. I found the unpredictable plot intriguing at first, though by the end all the double- and triple-crosses had begun to feel gimmicky. When you begin wondering when the next plot wrinkle will come and what it might be, the film turns into something of a video game. I like to be surprised, but by Heist's midpoint I knew odd things were going to happen. The only surprises were in the details.

Despite all this, and several gaping holes (particularly one key plot development involving an airplane on a taxiway that depends on an unlikely lack of response from airport security personnel), Heist is never boring. The movie belongs to Hackman as Moore, but the rest of the cast does solid work. In fact, the performances are often more interesting than the story.

The technical quality of the DVD is outstanding. Picture quality is about as good as it gets: sharp, solid color and little edge enhancement. I simply could not find anything to complain about, even when I viewed it with a top-quality video projection system. The sound is less spectacular than the video, but only because the latter is so good. The bass is solid (but used sparingly), the surrounds effective when they need to be, the dialogue crisp, and the modest music track cleanly recorded.

There are no notable extras. A trailer and . . . a trailer. Yes, there's a menu and scene access, but there's nothing special about that these days.

In short, this is a very fine transfer of an entertaining film—a solid candidate for rental, but probably not something you'll want to own.