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    Kings of Queens

    "Criminal," a remake of the Argentinian con caper "Nine Queens," is a likeably bumpy ride that gives a well-deserved lead role to John C. Reilly.


    Everybody loves a good con movie — I know I do — and "Criminal" delivers, a decently crafted, finely acted tale about a professional con man who takes a fledgling grifter under his tutelage, showing him (and us, the palpitating audience) the tricks of his trade. It's reminiscent of P.T. Anderson's sterling debut "Hard Eight" with crooks doubling for croupiers and loan sharks for card sharks, with Anderson regular John C. Reilly ("Boogie Nights," "Magnolia") having nicely matured into the role of knowledgeable teacher from novice student.

    Directed by: Gregory Jacobs.
    Written by: Gregory Jacobs, Steven Soderbergh.
    Adapted from the Argentinian film "Nine Queens" by: Fabián Bielinsky.
    Cast: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann.
    Cinematography: Chris Menges.
    Edited by: Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Reilly's Richard Gaddis first observes Rodrigo (Diego Luna) pulling a change-for-a-coke scam in a downtown casino, and steps in and flashes a fake badge when the cocktail waitress suspects foul play. Richard is a polished and professional thief but can only do so much alone; he's currently looking for a new partner to replace his previous one (whom he unceremoniously refers to as "The Jew"). The innocent-looking Rodrigo, whom Richard quickly Anglicizes as "Brian," appears to have the necessary bravado but not the technique. Not yet anyway.

    Since Rodrigo needs "seventy" to keep the Russians off his diabetic father's case, he semi-reluctantly signs on, watching with a combination of awe and glee as the master, for his first trick, talks an elderly woman out of $200 over her apartment's security intercom. Proving he's the right stuff, Rodrigo bets Richard he can talk a random woman on the street into handing over her pocketbook for 20 percent of Richard's next big score. And he does!

    "Criminal" starts out as a minor con, fun to watch as pro and trainee go about their nefarious business (it's an Americanization of the Argentinian film "Nine Queens"). It's a little "written" and doesn't quite have that David Mamet-esque bite to it, but it's a pleasant diversion and Reilly is really good as usual — Richard is a confident, smooth operator with some exceedingly creative angles on crime. Luna, too, brings credibility to his role as the wet-behind-the-ears swindler. Things take a turn for the better, movie-wise, when Richard gets a call from his sister Valerie (Maggie Gyllenhaal of "Secretary," slinky and seductive in a sexy satin suit), the concierge at the swank Biltmore hotel, and we learn of the bitter feud between the siblings involving lawsuits, a younger brother, and a family estate.

    It's at this point in the film that the stakes get higher, with director Gregory Jacobs upping the ante, introducing a sweaty Treasury note forger and a crooked wealthy industrialist into the mix.

    At one point Richard tells his protégé that you're only truly screwed in this business when you're face down on the sidewalk with your hands 'cuffed behind your back and when that finally happens you should exit the theater, because if you stay for the final scene, you'll witness a denouement that stretches the limits of credibility. Sure, if you think about the associations long and hard enough it might all fit together but I didn't want to. I was happy with the way it should have ended. As presented, the ending just seemed a little too pat to me.

    Its contrived and unnecessary finale aside, the enjoyable "Criminal" is nevertheless a rock-solid entrant into the con game with John C. Reilly seemingly enjoying his switch from the back burner to the fore.

    SEPTEMBER 15, 2004

    Reader comments on Criminal:

  • The Ending of CRIMINAL   from Don Druker, May 18, 2005
  • on Diego Luna   from manny, Oct 20, 2005
  • Criminal - Nueve Reinas   from George Campos, Nov 28, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Criminal"