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    Stranger than a pair o' dice

    "Criminals" is a perfectly spun yarn about two petty crooks from Brooklyn who set off to Las Vegas to make a big score and meet some show girls but wind up in a kind of Jarmusch-esque underland.


    Johnny and Eddie may be inept crooks but at least they know their limitations.

    Written and directed by: Jeff Butcher.
    Cast: Stephen Blackehart, Robert Margolis, Britta Couris.

    Related links: Official site
    When Johnny (Stephen Blackehart, who's Marlon Brando's son) suggests an idea for sending fraudulent bills to companies and Eddie starts asking questions, it expands into a grand scheme involving phony Social Security numbers, dummy corporations and a decoy apartment. Eddie (Robert Margolis) won't buy it.

    "One day we go to the bank and the feds will be there waiting," he insists. "It's not petty. We're petty criminals."

    Luckily, the caper in "Criminals" is petty enough that these two hoods from Coney Island should be able to handle it. Johnny's old girlfriend (Britta Couris) has written with a proposition: She knows where her boss saves up his cash all week, so they can grab it and everyone will be in "the fat money." The job is in Las Vegas, though, so the boys are in for a long drive filled with inspired dialogue and compulsive larceny before they can make the big score.

    That's the setup in this small but terrific buddy movie. "Criminals" is not a little like a Jim Jarmusch film — it's exactly like a Jim Jarmusch film in look and feel and in its flair for packing a simple story with slyly funny lines and character quirks. And with strangely fascinating actors — especially Margolis, who has the same long-faced hangdog look as John Lurie and Richard Edson from "Stranger Than Paradise."

    But if the film seems obviously derivative, it never gets stale. The well-conceived characters are played perfectly by Blackehart, Margolis and Couris.

    The script is full of subtle wit and charm, and there are clever surprises scattered here and there — I watched it three times and was still picking up new things.

    This is everything I look for in a small-budget movie — talent and inspiration in the place of star power and technical polish.

    FEBRUARY 5, 2000

    Reader comments on Criminals:

  • criminals   from silvana Jakich, Sep 10, 2005

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