Sept. 28, 2003 – "Matchstick Men" returns Nicholas Cage to the world of acting where he belongs, and away from the action front where he doesn't.
It's unsettling to see all that talent so ludicrously wasted in something like "Con Air." When you know this is the guy who had you totally in his back pocket in gems like "Raising Arizona" and "Red Rock West," to say nothing of "Moonstruck" and, more recently, "Adaptation."
Well, according to the critics, this is no "Moonstruck," but it's Cage doing what he does best — playing the offbeat, slightly damaged soul, and doing it with such earnestness.
This time, Cage has his hands full. Roy Waller (Cage) wouldn't right off the bat engage your sympathy. A "matchstick man" is a swindler, a con artist. Roy is a matchstick man, and a tic-ridden obsessive-compulsive.
He has a partner, his protégé Frank Mercer (Sam Rockwell) — described by one critic as "sleazy but charming" — who keeps trying to con Roy into the "long con," something more time-consuming than Roy can handle, what with his preoccupations with closing doors three times and picking up a minuscule thread on a carpet.
Roy's lifestyle, if you can call it that, is suddenly brought to an abrupt halt be the arrival of a 14-year-old daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), whom he didn't even know he had.
So, the story could get all mushy, with Roy softening toward the rambunctious teen-ager. But that's not what happens. There's lots of cons, and/or twists in the plot, too. Angela decides she has a talent for Roy's line of work, and, well, you can take it from there, but the critics say Angela saves the day.
Anthony Lane, writing in the Sept. 22 New Yorker, had nothing good to say about Cage in this role, nothing at all, and not much good to say about director Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down," "Thelma and Louise"). Lane says "the lasting impression is that an unembarassable actor and a director of proven largess decided, almost as a challenge, to lavish their ceaseless gifts on a hero and a setup that were simply too small and musty for their purposes."
However, Lane is nuts about Lohman: "From her first gliding arrival on the sidewalk (she arrives on a skateboard), she graces this movie with the pleasure and credibility that it craves."
Eleanor Ringel Gillespie in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has nothing bad to say about Cage, nothing at all. "Cage continues to prove he is one of the most inventive actors working today," she writes. And she thoroughly approves of the movie, too — "solidly shot and smartly acted, you're never sure who's conning who."
What the duo, or trio as it becomes, does is not very nice. They con kindly old couples, although they balance things by swindling boorish businessmen as well. And that seems fair enough. The action is set in Los Angeles and backed by a jazzy sound track of old Sinatra and Bobby Darin tunes.
The movie is almost two hours long. It's rated R for violence, some sexual content and language by the Chicago Tribune, and PG-13 for mild violence, language, strip-club nudity (a new one on us) and slight sexual content by Yahoo and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It's playing at Market Square East Theatres on St. Thomas.
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