Dir. Ridley Scott. US, 2003.
Paper Moon meets House Of Games in this lightweight crime caper coming from one of Hollywood's heavyweight directors, obviously on a break between his major projects. The tale of a con artist suffering from a severe case of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) who is surpassed by his disciples, this is the kind of comedy programmed to do well on any family entertainment front, with Oscar-winner Cage offering a finely tuned performance as a man with more tics and phobias than he can count, who finds himself entangled with a daughter he did not know he had and with a partner who is not as much of a nincompoop as he pretends to be. Get ready to see this for a long time to come, first on the big screen, then on all the variations of the small one, with airlines sure to pick up a product that in all evidence seems to have been tailored on measure for them.
Roy (Cage) considers himself a master at the art of playing on other people's confidence - he never takes their money away, he says, they are giving it to him. Having learned all the tricks of his trade in the course of the many years he had been doing it, he cautiously plans every little detail in advance and leaves nothing to chance, if he can help it. With a nice stash at home and a substantial one in the bank safety box, his only problem is that whenever he is not on a job, he is a nervous wreck who can't stand open spaces, physically suffers at the slightest blemish on the carpet, is an obsessive smoker, trembles and shudders for reasons unknown, panicking every time he is away from his medication, which in this film happens more than once.
While his ambitious younger partner in crime, Frank (Rockwell) is trying to drag him into a scam that would make them much more than the cautious moderate profits they were collecting until now, Roy resists the temptation until one day he drops his pills down the drain. His shrink is out of town, there is no other choice for him but to go to a new one, Dr. Klein (Altman), who not only provides him with another colour of pills, but also pries into his past, bringing back to the surface the wife Roy had divorced 14 years ago and the possibility of an eventual offspring. As a courtesy to his jittery patient, the good doctor finds out that such an offspring indeed exists, she is14, her name is Angela (Lohman), and Roy, he thinks, should meet her. Which he indeed does, falling immediately for the delightfully pert, newly-found daughter who works her way not only into his heart but also into his alleged profession, up to the point she where she becomes a fully-fledged partner in his life and in the bigger-than-life sting he had turned down before.
Though it would be unfair to unveil any more of the story, rest assured it has every detail in place, all the right tingles are delivered at the right time, there is an appropriately funny-scary finale, with a coda to provide the moral massage. Whether the chain of events is as inevitable as they appear to be here, is of course another matter, but the Nicholas and Ted Griffin adaptation of the Eric Garcia story is far more interested in the single proceedings than in their course, and audiences will most likely be inclined to agree with them.
Scott, whose closest brush with this type of material and even then miles away from it, was Thelma And Louise, breezes through the film with a surprisingly light touch, thoroughly supported by John Mathieson's cinematography which makes Roy's flat, designed by Tom Foden all in gray tones, look like a sort of antiseptic haven. Dody Dorn's swift editing lends a quirky twist to actions that would otherwise appear completely natural. A swinging up-tempo soundtrack packed with hits of the sixties, mostly Sinatra and Bobby Darin makes sure everyone is kept happy and of course there is Cage himself, who carries most of the film on his shoulders, displaying once again his consummate talent for going over the top without ringing one false note. Not a film to remember, but definitely a film to enjoy.
Prod co: Imagemovers/Scott Free Productions
Prods: Jack Rapke, Ridley Scott, Steve Starkey, Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
Exec prod: Robert Zemeckis
Scr: Nicholas Griffin, Ted Griffin based on Eric Garcia story
Cinematography: John Mathieson
Ed: Dody Dorn
Prod des: Tom Foden
Costumes: Micael Kaplan
Music: Hans Zimmer
Main Cast: Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill