Picks and Pans Review: Catch Me If You Can

updated 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/13/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams

There's something about a man in a uniform. That's what Frank Abagnale Jr., the appealing rogue at the center of this enormously entertaining movie, counted on when he first donned a Pan Am pilot's suit and cap in 1964. Though he was only 16 at the time, the uniform conferred power and respect upon him—enough so that hotel and bank clerks unquestioningly cashed the fake checks that the teen handed over, eventually millions of dollars' worth of them. When one clerk observes that Abagnale looks too young to be a pilot, the con man helpfully explains, "I'm a copilot."

Catch Me If You Can, inspired by a true story, is a pleasure from its zippy, animated opening credits right through to an end crawl telling us what became of the real-life Abagnale (played by DiCaprio) and Carl Hanratty (Hanks), the FBI agent who tenaciously pursued him. The secret to Catch's success is twofold: It lets us in on the tricks Abagnale used to pass himself off as a pilot (soaking Pan Am decals off toy planes and affixing them to fake payroll checks) and later, while still in his teens, as a doctor and a lawyer. And it builds a case for the whys, portraying Abagnale as a confused adolescent who was acting out after the breakup of his parents' marriage.

Director Steven Spielberg displays a sure hand here, skillfully balancing the film's dramatic and comic elements. DiCaprio is first-rate, carefully building a portrait of a charmer at loose in the world but longing for a home. A buttoned-down Hanks is his usual reliable self. The revelation here is Walken, who uncharacteristically plays Abagnale's loser dad sympathetically, with grace and quiet resignation. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: A great Catch

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