The words “criminal mastermind” do not come to mind in describing the subjects of the compelling, sleekly crafted, and sadly predictable “Heist,” a six-episode Netflix docu-series about three high-scoring, sometimes comically botched inside jobs. (There are two episodes for each crime.) These desperadoes saw opportunities to make a killing and acted on them with an ineptitude matched only by the fecklessness of those in authority.
In Derek Doneen’s “Sex Magick Money Murder,” Heather Tallchief (or [spoiler] the actress portraying her — the real Tallchief doesn’t appear until the end and then with her face blurred out) tells her story in a gushy stream of vapid cliches.
By 1993 she has bottomed out. Depressed by her job caring for AIDS patients, she has become addicted to crack and been fired. Then she meets Roberto Solis, a low-rent Charles Manson type who had served time for murder but was paroled after making a stir with the publication of books of poetry. Solis’s bad verse, satanic mysticism (shots of tarot cards, candles, animal skulls, and pentagrams), hypnosis (videos of whirling spirals), and “sex magick” (montages of naked bodies doused in blood engaged in sex) seduce Tallchief into helpless infatuation. Finding the “chaos” surrounding the volatile ex-murderer “sexy,” she takes a job as a Loomis armored car driver so she can help him pull off a multi-million-dollar robbery. The heist, like those in the other two cases, is shown in slick reenactments reminiscent of Martin Scorsese.
Despite the couple’s fecklessness, they escape unscathed with $3.1 million. Law enforcement is stymied for years, trying to track them down, during which time Tallchief gets pregnant, decides that chaos is not as sexy as she thought it was, dumps Solis when he two-times her, changes her identity, and tries to start a new life with her son in another country.
Women in this series tend to be credulous and long suffering, as is the case with the wife of Cuban immigrant Karls Monzon in Martin Desmond Roe’s “The Money Plane.” After two miscarriages, the couple decide to adopt a child but the Russian agency they apply to is too expensive. So in 2005, when a friend asks Karls if he is interested in stealing $100 million left virtually unguarded at Miami International Airport, he decides to do it. Taking notes from TV shows like “The FBI” and “CSI Miami” (“the Discovery Channel helped a lot,” he says), he devises a plan — not brilliant, but it doesn’t have to be — and puts together a crew of friends and family to pull it off.
Despite screw-ups and close calls they get away with $7.4 million (more than the haul in the similar 1978 JFK airport Lufthansa job depicted in Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”). Monzon warns his accomplices to lie low and not spend the money until things cool down, but he can’t seem to get that message through to Jeffrey, his brother-in-law, who throws cash around in strip clubs. Regretfully, Monzon hires some goons to teach Jeffrey a lesson.
Jeffrey resumes his imprudent behavior, despite the beating (a screwdriver jammed into his ear is an especially nasty touch). Though Monzon denies involvement, the goons visit Jeffrey again, only this time they kidnap him and demand a ransom from Monzon. Now he has to face up to what he’s been dreading: explaining to his wife where all the money came from, why the FBI is after him, and why he won’t pay the ransom and save Jeffrey’s life. In the end it’s family that matters the most — except when it comes to picking a crew to pull off a heist.
In Nick Frew’s “The Bourbon King,” Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger faces the quintessential dilemma of the average American dude: Hang out with the guys drinking, pumping iron, taking steroids, and playing softball or accept the wife’s demand that he spend more time with the family? So he dumps the team and settles into taking care of the kids and working at the distillery, where it’s common practice to take a taste of the product now and then and even walk out with a bottle or two. One day he shares some of his purloined Pappy Van Winkle whiskey with a friend, who tells him he knows people who would pay good money for it. Curtsinger gives him a couple of bottles and is shocked when his friend comes back and tosses a wad of $100 bills on the table.
Unbeknownst to Curtsinger, everybody wants Pappy Van Winkle, from Anthony Bourdain to Pope Francis, paying prices up to $4,000 for one bottle. Curtsinger becomes the go-to guy for the stuff; and as the demand increases, from bottles to cases to barrels, he gets his old teammates to help him out. It’s like old times — except with piles of money. His wife, meanwhile, despite the extra gifts at Christmas, the trips, the growing arsenal of firearms, and the plans for a new house, has no idea that the team had gotten back together — nor what their new game is.
Then comes “Pappygate.” In 2013 hundreds of bottles of Van Winkle are discovered missing at the distillery and the crime makes national news. A local “media whore sheriff” (as Curtsinger describes him) vows to bring the thieves to justice and puts up a $10,000 reward. Undaunted, confident that no one would turn him in, feeling protected by the high rollers who are his customers, Curtsinger keeps selling the hootch. But when his old softball mates are rounded up and asked, “Do you want to be a teammate or an inmate?,” the question becomes whether they’ll agree to play ball.
“Heist” streams on Netflix beginning July 14. Go to www.netflix.com.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.