Film-Forward Review: [CRIMINAL]

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Directed by: Gregory Jacobs.
Produced by: George Clooney.
Written by: Gregory Jacobs & Sam Lowry, based on the film Nine Queens, written by Fabián Bielinsky.
Director of Photography: Chris Menges.
Edited by: Stephen Mirrione.
Music by: Alex Wurman.
Released by: Warner Independent Pictures.
Country of Origin: USA. 87 min. Rated: R.
With: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna & Maggie Gyllenhaal.

A 24/7 con man, Richard (John C. Reilly), recruits innocent-looking Rodrigo (Diego Luna) after witnessing him botch a simple trick, and shows him how to make a living off of the stupidity of others. Rodrigo, to pay off his father’s debt to the Russian Mafia, does his best to emulate Richard's self-proclaimed professional style. When a score worth hundreds of thousands of dollars presents itself to Richard, the two men spend the rest of the day calling in favors. As more and more characters get involved, both the audience and the con men lose track of how many pockets this money is destined to fill.

First time director Gregory Jacobs has a simplistic style that works well for Criminal's no frills approach to the con game. Veteran Richard has been doing this for many years, so it is logical that all of his pullovers be effortless gags. But the simplicity of the heists proves to be a sore spot for the film - there really isn't much snappy dialogue to distract the viewer from the lack of action.

Nice guy John C. Reilly is miscast as the snaky Richard, and while Diego Luna does give the most effective performance, it is almost laughable the way so few victims suspect these two of anything. Richard sports a suit and tie while Rodrigo (renamed "Bryan" by Richard in an effort to enhance his innocent look) goes the scruffy route. Maggie Gyllenhaal pops up a few times as Richard's sister Valerie. The two are involved in a legal battle over their family's estate, and it seems as though every time we see Valerie she's spitting the same ignorable dialogue. It isn't until the film's end that her lines are given meaning, but by then it is too late; her comeuppance is just one in a long line of predictable twists waiting to take center stage.

Criminal attempts to swindle the audience into thinking it is much smarter than it actually is. Although for a film about a day in the life of two con men, this façade is more ironic than unnerving. Even so, this remake of the Argentinean hit Nine Queens would have played out better if it were less preoccupied with meaningless character twists, and more with the engrossing shadiness of the business. During the final scene, we are left ignoring what is actually happening to ponder the other more gratifying possibilities. Michael Belkewitch
September 4, 2004



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