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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Starring: Steve Martin, Michael Caine
Director: Frank Oz
Rated: PG
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Glenne Headly, Barbara Harris, Anton Rodgers, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Professional assassins are the usually the most fascinating category of criminals on the silver screen and potentially the most rewarding for any serious filmmaker. But in the genre of comedy another category of criminals - con artists - rules supreme. This is hardly surprising because they are by definition the most charming of all criminals, and taking advantage of other people's stupidity often corresponds with said stupidity being the source of on-screen humour. One of the examples could be found in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, 1988 comedy directed by Frank Oz.

The plot is set in Beaumont-sur-Mer, little resort town on French Riviera, frequented by rich people from USA and other parts of the world. This used to be the perfect hunting ground for Lawrence Jamieson (played by Michael Caine), sophisticated and suave British con artist specialised in extracting money from rich and gullible women by posing as a mysterious exiled prince. Through the years Jamieson amassed enough fortune to afford a mansion, butler (played by Ian McDiarmid) and co-operation of local police inspector (played by Anton Rodgers). His idyllic life suddenly becomes threatened with the arrival of rival in the form of Freddy Benson (played by Steve Martin), uneducated and unsophisticated American who earns money by telling sob stories about his ill grandmother. Jamieson, convinced that this raw routine might bring unwanted attention, does everything in his power to drive Freddy out of town, but the American keeps coming back. Finally, two men decide to make a wager - whoever extracts 50,000 US$ from American "soap queen" Janet Colgate (played by Glenne Headley) wins, and the loser would have to leave town.

Not among the most remarkable films thirteen years ago, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS looks surprisingly good from today's perspective. The reason is probably in the humour, which is way above the today's Hollywood standards of comedy embodied in the films by Farrelly brothers. The script by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning is very intelligent and the film leaves the impression of belonging to another era - 1950s or 1960s (hardly a surprise, since this happens to be the remake of BEDTIME STORY, directed by Ralph Levy in 1963). The plot is, on the other hand, weak and serves as nothing more than excuse for the series of scenes in which two principal characters try to outwit each other. Another surprise of the film is good direction by Frank Oz of MUPPET SHOW fame; in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, unlike his previous film THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, he abandons special effects in favour of authentic locations of French Riviera (and famous Victorine studios in Nice) and allows great actors to carry the film. Michael Caine and Steve Martin look like they were born to play the characters; the contrast between sophisticated European and provincial American is not only mirrored in screen personalities of Michael Caine and Steve Martin, but also in the different styles of acting. While Caine, same as his aristocratic character, keeps stiff upper lip at all times, Steve Martin often goes for the physical comedy, although not always with the best results. The biggest and the most pleasant surprise, however, comes in the form of Glenne Headley, the actress who had misfortune of wasting her talent in many disastrous films in late 1980s and early 1990s. Her talents were not wasted in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS - she simply shines in the role of naive and innocent woman whose charm is going to enchant our immoral protagonists. Unfortunately, she appears relatively late, and because of that the film is slightly overlong, and the twist ending is not as unpredictable as the authors would like. DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is nevertheless very funny and entertaining film that should be recommended as an example of something that is rather absent in Hollywood these days - stylish and well-crafted comedy.

Copyright 2001 Dragan Antulov

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