Dir: Gregory Jacobs. US.2004. 87mins.
Steven Soderbergh'slong-time first assistant director Gregory Jacobs gets a shot at being the topdog courtesy of Soderbergh's financing clout at Warner Bros with Criminal,a remake of 2000 Argentinian hit Nine Queens (Nuevas Reinas).Unfortunately, somewhere in the transfer of the sting caper from Buenos Airesto Los Angeles, the zest of the original was misplaced, resulting in a lifelessfilm which, while technically accomplished, is dramatically unsatisfying.
Box office appeal is limitedfor the film which boasts a quartet of fine actors in the lead roles butgenerates little sex appeal and is an unlikely candidate for crossover success.Meanwhile, the critics who could have championed it will make unfavourable comparisonswith the original film which had wide exposure in specialised markets - it wasreleased in the US by Sony Pictures Classics in 2002 and sold internationallythrough Lions Gate Films International. The remake opens in the US on 10 Septthrough Warner Independent Pictures
Jacobs has adopted aMamet-like matter-of-factness in his direction which builds neither suspensenor intrigue, especially in the decidedly un-atmospheric location of sterileLos Angeles. DoP extraordinaire Chris Menges captures the bleached-out sunshineof the city, but the story of petty crime and conmen which takes place wouldsurely have been better suited to a more bustling urban environment like LasVegas or New York City, as was Buenos Aires in the first film.
While we're on the subjectof comparisons with Nine Queens, John C Reilly heads the cast of Criminalas the ruthless con artist Richard Gaddis but he is no match for Ricardo Darin,the charismatic Argentinian actor who was as charming as he was callous in theoriginal. Reilly hasn't got Darin's looks or sexual magnetism, so he comesacross as plain loathsome. The choice is vital on the part of Jacobs - theaudience's conflicted feelings for the Gaddis character are the key to whetherthey buy the set-up. The casting of Reilly fundamentally reduces the tensionsat play in the piece.
Set over the course of 24hours, the movie kicks off early morning in a casino where Gaddis espies ahapless young hustler Rodrigo (Luna) trying to pull a "change-for-a-hundred"swindle on two different waitresses. Just when the game is up, Gaddis poses asa cop and bundles Rodrigo into his car. There he explains that he is need of anew partner and invites him to help pull a few jobs. Rodrigo, who desperatelyneeds to raise money to get his father out of his gambling debts, reluctantlyagrees.
The two of them pull of somesmall schemes but suddenly a major opportunity for enrichment presents itselfwhen Richard's estranged sister Valerie (Gyllenhaal) calls from the luxuryhotel where she works as the concierge instructing Gaddis to come to the hotel.
An old Spanish crook whoknows Richard has been making a scene in the lobby trying to get to a VIPguest, media magnate William Hannigan (Mullan). Valerie wants Richard to getrid of him. Just as he is about to do so, the Spaniard tells him about a stinghe is planning. He has forged a copy of a one-of-its-kind 1878 Monroe SilverCertificate, and Hannigan, who is leaving the country the next day for taxreasons, is an antique currency collector who would pay over half a milliondollars to buy it. Richard is intrigued and immediately involves himself in thescam, but to do so, he realises that he needs both Rodrigo and Valerie to helphim.
The double cross pay-off isdramatic, as viewers of sting movies from House Of Games to MatchstickMen have come to expect, and which viewers who have seen Nine Queens alreadyknow. But even the final revelation is unveiled with the muted tone whichJacobs maintains throughout the film. Like its non-descript title, Criminalneeded a shot of adrenalin. Audiences who pay to see it might feel like they dotoo.
Prod cos: Section Eight, 2929 Entertainment
US dist: Warner IndependentPictures
Int'l dist: Warner Bros PicturesInternational
Exec prods: Jennifer Fox, BenCosgrove, Georgia Kacandes, Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban
Prods: Gregory Jacobs, GeorgeClooney, Steven Soderbergh
Scr: Gregory Jacobs & SamLowry, based on the film Nuevas Reinas (Nine Queens) written by FabienBielinsky
Cine: Chris Menges
Prod des: Philip Messina
Ed: Stephen Mirrione
Mus: Alex Wurman
Main cast: John C Reilly, DiegoLuna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker, Enrico Colantoni