Credit: Fernando Colunga and Eduardo Yañez in <i>Ladrones</i>

Ladrones, a Mexican heist comedy that opened in multiplexes this past weekend, is being advertised all over town, though for audiences unfamiliar with Mexican cinema and TV the film is shrouded in mystery. The distributor (Pantelion Films, a partnership between Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa) didn’t alert any English-language press outlets about a preview screening in Chicago, leading one to assume that they previewed it here only for the Spanish-language press. (The film inspired a cover story in Hoy on Friday, but received little to no attention from our city’s English-language publications.) The ubiquitous poster, which presents stars Fernando Colunga and Eduardo Yañez looking boss, doesn’t offer many clues as to what the film is about. It doesn’t even mention that the movie is a sequel to a popular comedy from 2007—Ladron Que Roba a Ladron, known here as To Rob a Thief.

The film is hardly inaccessible to non-Spanish-speaking audiences, nor is it any worse than many of the English-language movies I’ve had to review lately. That it’s being promoted in Chicago strictly as a niche release has less to do with its quality than with how distributors look at audiences. They presume that viewers only want to watch things with which they’re already familiar, and so the distributors don’t bother reaching out to anyone who might need background information on a movie before seeing it. It’s for this reason that general audiences hear so little about the Bollywood and Chinese-language films that play at the River East every week, even though they’re often more interesting than the movies that open to general release.

Like plenty of Bollywood and mainland Chinese genre films, Ladrones wears its populist spirit on its sleeve. The heroes are modern-day Robin Hoods who steal from criminals and redistribute the money among the poor. They’re so good at what they do, in fact, that one of them (played by Miguel Varoni) got poached by the FBI at the end of the previous film, leaving the thief played by Colunga to continue his efforts solo. Near the start of Ladrones, Colunga is contacted by a young woman seeking his help. She comes from a small town in south Texas that had once been part of Mexico. In flashbacks, we learn that Mexicans who had owned the deeds to their land were permitted to continue owning their property, but that villainous whites stole most of the land grants to take control of the town. The woman’s mother recently found the deed to her property buried in her backyard, but it was quickly seized by a thug employed by the heiress of the family who owns the town part and parcel. She wants Colunga to get it back.

Teaming up with Yañez’s scam artist, Colunga assembles a team to pull off a heist that will reclaim the stolen deed. The team is a group of misfits with strange talents, among them a failed Method actor called upon to pose as a Texas Ranger and a ditzy woman who can predict weather patterns based on how her hair responds to the humidity. “The silly tone is a lot closer to an episode of Get Smart than Ocean’s 11,” writes Randy Cordova in the Arizona Republic (one of the few English-language reviews I was able to find of the film), and I’d add that some of the bizarre turns approach the warped logic of classic surrealism. It’s revealed, for instance, that the chief villain owns a magic amulet that controls a force field around the safe in which the heiress keeps the deeds to the properties in the town; also, the young woman’s mother is secretly a molecular biologist with a talent for creating explosive concoctions (this talent will come in handy when it comes to reversing the power of the magic amulet).

Jon Molerio’s script packs in lots of developments in its short running time, revealing a manic imagination at play. The film is never boring, although the slapdash visual style (which suggests low-budget TV) leaves a bit to be desired. What holds the film together are the exaggerated performances, which can be quite funny. Oscar Torre is particularly entertaining as the Method actor, a character who’s introduced playing a bear at a children’s birthday party and failing to impress his audience.