2003-09-26 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Matchstick Men’ – Cage As Con

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Matchstick Men’ – Cage As Con

MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘Matchstick Men’ – Cage As Con

It may be time for Nicholas Cage to find a new part where he doesn’t play an obsessive neurotic. Besides, the quirky compulsive male is being done to death: Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets," Tony Shalhoub in TV’s "Monk," Cage himself with his dual role last year as screenwriting brothers in "Adaptation."

Now, Cage is fine-tuning his twitches and ticks in "Matchstick Men."

Director Ridley Scott is taking a break from big-time violence ("Gladiator," "Black Hawk Down," "Hannibal") to a do a character study that combines "Paper Moon," "Catch Me If You Can," and "The Odd Couple," among other movies. The problem is that the story about an anal scam artist, his long-lost teenage daughter and his slob partner is so top-heavy with Cage quirks that "The Sting"-like con is almost made irrelevant.

Fraudulent phone solicitors, Roy (Cage) and Frankie (Sam Rockwell) are coasting along in Los Angeles fleecing little old ladies out of big bucks. As they are about to hook into a major con with wealthy shyster Chuck Frechette (Bruce McGill), Roy is encouraged by his therapist, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman), to connect with his newly-discovered adolescent daughter, Angela (Allison Lohman of "White Oleander"). In therapy, it is revealed that much of Roy’s trauma stems from leaving his then-pregnant wife 14 years earlier.

So, now we move into a "Paper Moon" scenario, with high-spirited Angela wanting to enter into Dad’s business and finding that she shares his criminal mind. She even pulls off some min-cons herself, causing Roy to feel parental guilt and ask her to give the money back. The story leads to double and triple crosses as Scott keeps the cinematic veneer smooth and slick. The semi-comic con character study was done far more successfully with Leonardo DiCaprio in Steven Spielberg’s "Catch Me If You Can." However, "Matchstick Men" is a notch above the Ed Burns-Dustin Hoffman scam movie, "Confidence."

As for Cage’s acting, it is somewhat disturbing to see him going for laughs as a victim of what appears to be Tourette’s syndrome. Or, are his twitches and ticks not meant to be funny? In one scene, he’s stuttering and struggling to convince a pharmacist to renew a supposed prescription for his medication.

Cage acts up a storm, filling the theater with uneasy laughter. It’s not so hysterical to those afflicted with this real disability. When portraying those with mental or physical ailments, actors have to walk a fine line between sensitivity and offensiveness. Hoffman did it in "Rain Man," as did Cliff Robertson in "Charly." Cage overdoes it and falls flat into the obnoxious, hurtful arena. As Roy would say: "Shame on you."

Time for Cage to seek new ground for his considerable acting talent. The
"disabled grifter" is not only a bad mix, but nonsensical.

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