Steven Soderbergh's "The Underneath" takes the bones of a 1949 noir classic named "Criss Cross" and drapes them with modern characters so neurotic that crime almost seems like therapy: It keeps them occupied. It's not every thief who reads Self-Esteem: A User's Guide, especially when self-esteem is the one thing he has more of than he can possibly justify.
The character reading the book is Michael (Peter Gallagher), who has returned home to Austin, Texas, for the wedding of his 56-year-old mother to a genial man (Paul Dooley) who works for an armored-car company. People in Austin are surprised to see him, especially his wife Rachel (Alison Elliott), who is still furious at him for walking out on her. He walked out on a lot of other people, too, including some heavy-duty bookmakers he owed big bucks to.
"I've squared with everybody," he tells her. "Except me," she says.
The early passages of the plot, which are the most intriguing, play more like Soderbergh's "sex, lies . . . and videotape" than like the Burt Lancaster thriller. Although there are flash-forwards to what looks like a crime in the making, most of the drama involves Michael's uneasy relationship with his brother David (Adam Trese), a cop who despises his weaknesses. There is also the problem of Tommy Dundee (William Fichtner), the explosively jealous night-club owner who is Rachel's current lover.