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. "Matchstick Men"

A good con game movie provides unexpected turns that, by the end of the game the meaning of what you've been seeing calls for reinterpretation. This one does that, taking you in like any patsy, providing the pleasures that deception (of the other guy) gives you. It's not quite sleight of hand, but the distractions in this Ridley Scott directorial trick are all in the right place for maximum effect.

Two conmen, "not-a-crumb out of place" Roy (Nicolas Cage) and "I love you guy" Frank (Sam Rockwell), his protege, operate out of an office to filch the unsuspecting out of their hard earned money by schemes and stratagems that call for them to assume the roles of super phone salemen in phase one and fraud agents in phase two. During the slick banter of phase two, Roy goes ballistic with twitches and jumps, making it convincing that his obsessive-compulsive disorder, and his dependency on illicitly obtained medication, are serious matters. Partner Frank is there to manage the shock of the seizure to the unsuspecting and to tend him when he's in its grasp.

Roy's the type to shake off offers of help, however, and after a testy session with shrink Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) in order to legally obtain his medicine, he's back to his controlled abnormality. But, not until his never seen 14-year old daughter Angela (Alison Lohman) shows up in his bachelor life, he's not ready to go for Frank's idea about a big score. Her needs change his priorities and self-protective policies, however, and he gets into Franks' plot to take a less than scrupulous car dealer for a lot of cash.

As though he spent a few weeks in an institution for the anal retentive as research, Cage takes on the ticks and phobias of the affliction with enough harrowing detail and consistency as to provide a quick course in the behavioral syndrome -- one that could require you to open or close a door three times in order to do it once, counting as you go. How he manages to build his con artistry and the process of an errant single guy learning to becoming a father to a teenager on top of tic-ridden symptoms is a sight to behold and an inseparable part of the drama.

For her part, the choice of Alison Lohman as that teenager growing attached to a father she never before knew, couldn't be more a more exquisitely one. Can this 24-year old actress that grows into your heart just as it does Frank's pull off a believable 14 year-old? You'll find out why the question itself is so superbly appropriate when you see the pic. In the meanwhile, trust me, she'll captivate you and make you understand why super-grifter dad wants to ensure her future by putting her name on his currency-filled deposit box at the bank.

Rockwell ups the ante of his comedy-edged charm with as much slicknesss as his moments demand. He loads the venture with a dimension that, if he weren't in such fine company, might've stolen more than the swag.

When you're in director Ridley Scott's hands, (as you were in "Gladiator" and "Black Hawk Down") you can expect a choice cast and taste for material that crowds every possibility and nuance into the story he weaves.

"Matchstick Men" left us leaving the theatre checking our wallets and ready for a little homestyle sloppiness. It never seemed so desirable to be a little slovenly.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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