Greetings again from the darkness. Movies about “the con” have had many different looks over the years: the suave coolness of Oceans 11, David Mamet’s twisted perspective in House of Games, the tongue-in-cheek teamwork of Redford and Newman in The Sting, the demented mother-son approach in The Grifters, and of course, the slapstick style of Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. All of these committed to one style and made it work. The latest from the writing/directing team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Crazy Stupid Love) can’t seem to decide if they want the audience in on the joke, or if they rather the audience be the butt of the joke.
Will Smith plays Nicky, a third generation con man who is also a very conservative entrepreneur. He runs his cons as a business and prides himself on never taking unnecessary risks, ensuring the odds are in his favor. His professional curiosity lands him in an awkward situation with Jess, played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), who clumsily mistakes Nicky for an easy mark. Instead, he agrees to mentor her during Super Bowl week in New Orleans. This sequence is the best and most entertaining part of the film.
The second half of the film complicates things with the do they or don’t they love story between Nicky and Jess, as well as a few other messy personal relationships. The fun here lies with the con, not the love story, and that’s where the focus should stay. In fact, the most interesting characters aren’t Nicky and Jess, but rather a riotous Adrian Martinez (as Nicky’s computer whiz assistant), Rodrigo Santoro (as a racing team owner trying to cheat the competition), Gerald McRaney (a hoot as Santoro’s crusty old henchman), Robert Taylor (TV’s “Longmire”) as one of Santoro’s competitors, and BD Wong as Nicky’s betting adversary in the film’s most ludicrous sequence (and that’s saying a lot). Ms. Robbie has true star potential, but the script hangs her out a few times. She will be seen as Jane in next year’s Tarzan movie, so add that to your must-see list.
A very smart person I know observed that Will Smith has been conning us for years, and maybe by taking this role, at least he is finally admitting it. It is a bit tiresome to see Mr. Smith consistently play the smartest guy in the room, the most charming guy in the room, and the sneakiest guy in the room. It seems maybe he is one of the few that still sees him as such. The best actors elevate their co-stars and the script, while it seems he believes his star power is all that’s required.
watch the trailer: