John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan
A seasoned con man takes a fledgling flimflam artist under his wing, telling him, "You have the one thing that money and practice can't buy: You look like a nice guy." And it's true. The younger man, Rodrigo (Luna), has the goofy grin and sweet countenance of someone you'd ask to hold your place in line or briefly watch your bag at an airport. But this being a movie about con men—and an entertaining one at that—the experienced viewer knows it's always wise to wonder just who's conning whom.
The older fellow, Richard Gaddis (Reilly), is a small-timer who hustles dough off old ladies and waiters in Los Angeles. He dreams of the big score and, shortly after hooking up with Rodrigo, stumbles onto a megabucks scam involving a counterfeit silver certificate. To make it happen, Gaddis needs the help not only of Rodrigo but also of his estranged sister (Gyllenhaal), who is a concierge at a swank hotel, as well as several others. And everyone wants a cut.
Criminal, a savvy remake of Nine Queens, a sleek Argentinean film from 2000, is the kind of modest movie one doesn't want to oversell. It doesn't knock your socks off with star power, whiz-bang special effects or ambitious reach. What it does offer, as directed and cowritten by Gregory Jacobs (previously an assistant director and producer on Steven Soderbergh's movies), is a sneaky story smartly told, solid acting from a talented ensemble cast filled with rising stars, and resourceful use of a wide variety of L.A. locations. Reilly is his usual reliable self, Luna (Y Tu Mamá También) handles the film's trickiest role with sly aplomb, and Gyllenhaal, as Gaddis's put-upon sister, is all willowy wiles. (R)