Three generations of screen favorites collide in "The Score," a competently crafted heist thriller from Frank Oz, "Muppets" puppeteer and director of "Bowfinger," "What About Bob?" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." The results are admirable and entertaining if a little underwhelming; the cumulative star power isn't as impressive as might have been expected.
The score: Marlon Brando, once thought of as the greatest actor of his time, is easy enough to watch as flamboyant, pudgy criminal mastermind Max, sort of a cross between Truman Capote and '40s character actor Sydney Green-street. Brando, reportedly a troublemaker on the set, is funny with several throwaway lines, including an improvised bit about a pretend phone call, but lacks the off-kilter gravitas he demonstrated as recently as 1995's "Don Juan DeMarco." The veteran thespian, sporting heavy makeup and silk robes, doesn't exactly go the distance for the $3 million he received for three weeks' work.
Robert De Niro, the younger Vito Corleone to Brando's older don in the Godfather trilogy, turns in a typically solid, gritty, studied performance as Nick, an expert safecracker with a day job as owner of a Montreal jazz club. He's weary and eager to leave the underworld for a life of quiet domesticity with his beautiful flight-attendant girlfriend (an underused Angela Bassett). Edward Norton ("Fight Club," "American History X"), is all edgy energy as Jack, a rookie thief determined to win a little respect -- and a life-changing payday.
The plan, cooked up by Max, desperately in need of an infusion of cash, is straightforward but technically complex: Nick's mission, should he accept it, is to snatch a $30 million royal scepter, a French national treasure from the city's Customs House. Jack, masquerading as a mentally handicapped person (expect protests over the humor in this portrayal), has been working as a night janitor at the building, currying favor with co-workers and investigating the logistics.
The master and the upstart encounter a few snags, including a tense exchange with a computer geek selling valuable access codes, and then it's on to the heist. Oz, new to this genre, aptly tightens the tension during the robbery sequence. He crosscuts between the black-clad Nick -- prowling through the tunnels, wielding a high-tech snakelike video camera, dodging security cameras, hanging from the ceiling above the treasure and torching through the metal -- and Jack, using a laptop to interfere with the security cameras.
The denouement isn't exactly a shock, considering the character traits of the major players. But it makes for a satisfying twist. Travelogue bonus: Shots of the cobblestone streets and sites of Old Montreal, including the Notre Dame Basilica and the riverside Rue De La Commune. Extra for jazz and blues fans: footage of singer Cassandra Wilson and pianist-singer Mose Allison, leading their own groups onstage at Nick's nightclub.