If “Ocean’s Eleven” had been made as a chintzy telenovela, the result would have been something like “Ladron que roba a ladron,” a puny heist comedy that’s nowhere near as clever or amusing as it thinks it is, and gets even worse when it tacks on a sappy finish.
Instead of Danny we have Emilio Lopez (Miguel Varoni), a highly experienced scam artist who’s had his partner Alejandro Toledo (Fernando Colunga) gather together a crew for a big job—robbing the safe in the mansion of sleazy infomercial guru Moctesuma “Mocte” Valdez (Saul Lisazo), who’s been ripping off “ordinary people”—immigrant day-workers, mostly—with his Spanish-language TV commercials for “miracle” products. Unfortunately, the pros Lopez had expected to participate are all out of circulation, so Toledo’s assembled a motley bunch of amateurs—an actor with stage fright who happens to be a Cuban refugee (Oscar Torre); a parking-lot attendant (Ruben Garfias) and his mechanic daughter (Ivonne Montero), who of course is beautiful when she exchanges coveralls for a dress; a TV repairman slash computer geek (scripter JoJo Henrickson); and a brawny day laborer (Gabriel Soto). (It seems a pity that Bumblebee Man was otherwise engaged.) Together they’re enlisted in a complicated plan to break into Mocte’s office records while simultaneously crashing a big party being held at the guy’s estate and using carefully-staged misdirection—involving the gorgeous nanny (Julie Gonzalo) to Mocte’s intractable son and the pitch-man’s private accountant (Richard Azurdia)—to get to the stash and transport it past the gates.
By the standards of such take-the-money-and-run movies, this is pretty small potatoes, cooked up without much flair—“Ocean’s Seven” at best—and it doesn’t do much with its central conceit (which it shares with “A Day Without a Mexican”) about manual workers in U.S. consciousness. Joe Menendez’s direction is enthusiastic but undisciplined, and one might charitably say the same of the performances, which lack subtlety, though Torre has a few funny moments as the high-strung thespian. Technically things are no better; the picture is adequate, but certainly little more than that.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of “Ladron,” however, has to do with the last reel, which gives Lopez a principled reason (two of them, actually) for orchestrating his attack on Valdez—even if, as in “Ocean’s Thirteen,” it comes down to upholding the notion of honor among thieves (thus the title, taken from a Latino proverb)—and then trumps that miscalculation by adding a sappy postscript about the use to which the purloined money is put. Mocte is rightfully castigated for taking advantage of feeble-minded viewers, but the movie simultaneously absolves those who allow themselves to be duped of blame and suggests that their stupidity should be rewarded. That might make for a feel-good ending, but one that, if you think about it, panders to the target audience (like the rule Lopez enunciates—that “we never steal from our own,” implying that stealing from others is perfectly okay) and in practical terms, is rather silly.
If you want to plunk down ten bucks for a Telemundo-ready movie, “Ladron” won’t disappoint. But in any serious comparison to other, better heist pictures, it comes up short.