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Matchstick Men

Starring Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman; Bruce McGill
Screenplay by Nicholas Griffin & Ted Griffin
Based on the book by Eric Garcia
Directed by Ridley Scott
website: www.matchstickmenmovie.com

IN SHORT: All in all a truly decent and entertaining sit. No scam. [Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language. 120 minutes]

Roy (Nicolas Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) are partners in crime. Nothing violent, you understand. They run con games in which, they tell themselves, no one gets hurt -- though each victim's pride and bank book take a heavy hit. Roy and Frank are perfectly average at what they do, their games usually ripping off old folks by getting them to pay $300 for a $50 water filter. Their partnership is affected by two things -- Roy's neurotic personality -- he's got a nervous twitch and pops pills like a fiend to control it; he's also a neat freak whose behavior would make Felix Unger proud -- and the sudden appearance of the 14 year old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman), abandoned while she was still in mom's womb. With growing feelings of parental responsibility to acknowledge, Roy agrees to Frank's plan for a big money score. The mark is Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill) and the potential payday is easily in six figures.

Between the pills and the daughter, Roy seeks psychiatric guidance from a pal of Frank, a no-nonsense do your time on the couch or you don't get the pills you need called Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman). Because of the personal connection, Klein gives Roy his pills from sample packs to save him cash and bring him back for more every week. Finally, despite his best efforts to shield his progeny from reality, the kid figures it out and, like 14 year-olds do, thinks dad's job is pretty neat. Do we even have to report that Angela shows a genetic predisposition to understanding how to work a con? We thought not.

The detail is in the details, not the sting. The con jobs we see are, for the most part, perfectly average swindles. The "heroes" are average cons and the real story falls on Cage and the need for his character to grow up. Had director Ridley Scott pulled the actor's tics and twitches back a bit, Matchstick Men would have been a flat out winner. But, in retrospect -- which means monitoring the conversations of the grownups walking out of the preview we attended -- we missed at least two early clues that led more attentive folk to at least one of the surprise endings of Matchstick Men. Those folk were bored silly and dismissed the film as flat out stupid.

We, personally, missed 'em because we were distracted by one whopper of a case of overacting from star Cage. By the time we engaged whatever brain filters that allow us to ignore such things it was much too late even though a third clue was too obvious to miss. We were hooked and, despite the blatant attempt to beef up a thin story with actor's antics enjoyed Matchstick Men. ... and our arm is still sore from where a girl friend, who saw everything clearly, punched us out for getting suckered.

Matchstick Men is a fine example of a middling movie that serves itself up as a better than average dateflick. If at least half of your couple doesn't like it, our usual definition of a dateflick, odds are the other half will. Of course, if you both catch on early, you can have a fine time dissing the film's "stupidity" afterwards.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Matchstick Men, he would have paid . . .

$6.50

Cage's overkill is balanced by cool and intelligent performances by Alison Lohman and a dead on performance by Sam Rockwell.

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