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By Merle Bertrand | October 22, 2003

Conflict drives the narrative, or so goes the old cliché. Put a gruff and grizzled veteran white cop in the squad car with a young smart-assed black con man and you’ve got conflict. (And also the last good movie of Eddie Murphy’s career). Stick an ugly-mug Italian Stallion into the well-groomed, oil slick slime of heavyweight boxing and you’ve got a very visceral conflict. It would all be so laughably formulaic…if it weren’t so damned effective. Director Thomas Trail also takes a stab at the formula in his never-quite-believable drama, “Klepto,” but ultimately comes up short.
Emily (Meredith Bishop) steals for the hell of it. Endless hours of counseling and hundreds of dollars of drug therapy haven’t come close to quenching her compulsion to steal for the inexplicable thrill of it all.
It’s Nick’s (Jsu Garcia) job to stop shoplifters like Emily. Yet, when the studly young “loss prevention specialist” catches the skillful thief in the act on his bank of monitors, he can’t quite bring himself to bust her. Sure the mini-skirt and puppy dog eyes figure into the equation, but Nick apparently also feels a sense of admiration for her brazen display and sets out to meet Emily.
And here’s where “Klepto” falls apart like a cheap false-bottomed briefcase. This is primarily because, rather than revel in the potential for conflict between his primally attracted — and attractive — hunter and prey, rather than letting them struggle to overcome this fatal flaw in their burgeoning relationship, Trail instead tries to manipulate the conflict in a manner that’s as forced as it is unsavory and unsatisfying. He gives us their reluctant mating dance, then waters it down by allowing Nick to morph into just another down on his luck drug dealer who co-opts Emily’s thievery skills to save his own skin. It’s a clumsy, ham-handed waste of conflict that comes out of the blue and ultimately diminishes both characters in the process.
This is a film that had a sort of cheesy made-for-the-WB Network feel to it in the first place. By replacing the built-in genuine conflict with the cliched and heavy-handed plot twist it ultimately takes, the only thing “Klepto” manages to steal is defeat from the jaws of victory.

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