Robert Prosky has done the hometown proud in "Thief," playing a crime boss with a patient curl-of-the-lip smile and one of the goofiest expressions in death ever on any screen.

He also plays one scene upside down. Cynics may suppose that the camera or the film is upside down, but after all those years of theater-in-the-round, why not?

Anyway, Arena State fans of the last two decades know that doing something with a simple part in a pedestrian crime movie is nothing for an actor who regularly triumphs in the most demanding classic and modern roles, and anyone who wants to see acting can catch Prosky live in "Cold Storage" at Arena's Kreeger. But, after all, making it in the moveis is the national definition of success, a milestone in which Washington audiences can share.

"Thief," which also stars out-of-towners James Caan and Tuesday Weld, is just not a movie one sees for the acting, any more than it's one in which to look for drama or character.

The hero is a safe-cracker who is supposedly made sympathetic through a shameless series of clunky devices: His original crime was stealing only $40, but he was victimized in prison and had to learn to be philosophically detached but materially tough. He yearns for family life but loves the girl behind the luncheonette counter enough to overlook the fact that she can't have children.

But a crook he remains, essentially unsympathetic. He doesn't mind killing for a dream which, for all its homey frills, prominently features a gold watch, silk shirts and a new car every year.

What this film does offer is cinematic effects -- not special effects, but thoughtful use of the camera. The film is done in a wet, neon nighttime look, much of it beautiful.

The auditory attempts are less successful. The noise of drilling and blasting metal safes, augmented by thumping electronic music, has the effect of being in a movie theater over a Metro construction site -- another Washington specialty.

THIEF -- At AMC Academy, Jerry Lewis Cinema, K-B Cerberus, NTI Arlington, NTI Dale Cinema, NTI Landover Mall, NTI Tysons Center, Roth's Americana, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Silver Spring East, Showcase Beacon Mall, Tenley Circle and Village Mall.