Matchstick Men

Nicholas Cage is a very weird actor. He has a tendency to freak out for no reason, and has an interesting way of speaking and gesturing. His choice in roles is wildly uneven, and lately tended towards the annoying. It's only fitting that he plays Ray, a con artist who is also obsessive compulsive. The role allows Cage (Adaptation, Sonny) to blink wildly, whoop, count to three every time he opens or shuts a door, and look like he is going to explode every time somebody moves or gets dirt on anything in his immaculately clean house. Matchstick Men, based on the novel by Eric Garcia, is a slick movie, so smooth that it gently slides off the minds of viewers, failing to register as more than a passing fancy. Since this is a movie about cons, scams abound. In the same spirit as recent films like Ocean's Eleven and Confidence, the story has a little more going on than it initially wants people to know.

This issue is that with so many similar movies, one can pick up on certain clues. Logic in movies may not necessarily be a requirement, but in a film like this, every detail counts. Adapters Ted (Ocean's Eleven, Best Laid Plans) and Nicholas Griffin don't do a great job of hiding glaring hints; little things that don't quite make sense. Unfortunately, this means that it's fairly obvious for astute viewers to guess what is going to happen, and this takes some of the fun away from watching Ray and his partner Frank (Sam Rockwell, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Welcome to Collinwood). Ray is Frank's mentor. The two eke out a living working small telephone scams, bilking the elderly and the stupid out of money.

Ray takes medication, obtained illegally, for his disorder, and when his supplier disappears, he is forced to go to Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman, Changing Lanes, L.I.E.), who wants to get to the bottom of why Ray is how he is. Through Klein, Ray discovers that he has a daughter, and after they meet for the first time, Angela (Alison Lohman, White Oleander, Alex in Wonderland) takes an instant liking to him, and much to his dislike, moves in. Ray finds himself in a bizarre new situation. He has no clue how to parent, and Angela's slovenly teenage ways really disturbs him. When she finds he is a con man, she wants to learn how to scam people. In this sense, Matchstick Men is interesting. It is about more than a complex con, or about Ray and Angela. By combining the two, director Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down, Hannibal) humanizes the story, with the focus squarely on Ray. He really likes Angela, and likes teaching her how to cheat people, but is slowly realizing that this may not be the best thing to do.

Meanwhile, Frank convinces Ray to scam Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill, Legally Blonde 2, The Sum of All Fears) using an elaborate monetary exchange scheme. Although he balked before, Ray, ecstatic over the discovery of a daughter, okays the plan, and eventually involves Angela. It's this scam that drives Matchstick Men towards its inevitable conclusion. It's not as clever as it thinks, but Scott, who usually works on a much grander scale, does manage to squeak out a guilty pleasure. His cast is excellent, with Rockwell smarmy and arrogant, contrasting with Lohman's innocence and unending eagerness. Strangely, Cage, now given a role where his weird tics can come out, restrains himself. Oh well.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 56 minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content, and language.

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