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Mean Mr. Mustard Puts A Hurtin

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

One of our LA readers just hit me with her impressions of this film in chat, and she had a totally different reaction than Mean Mr. Mustard did.

But, hey... he’s mean. That’s his gig. Check it out.

Hey Harry, Mean Mr. Mustard here...

Picture being invited to a test screening of the new film by Ridley Scott, Matchstick Men. In a way, Ridley Scott is a lot like the three in a row World Series Champions, The NY Yankees from 1998-2000. 2000-2002 was Scott's period. He gave us Gladiator, Hannibal, and Black Hawk Down. Three in a row!

Now picture sitting in a screening room and knowing that the great Mr. Scott is sitting only a few rows behind you. And picture, just picture, if you can, an absolutely horrendous mess with Mr. Scott's name on it being projected in front of you. I can only imagine that the same felling that I had inside of me, the same sinking feeling that I had inside my stomach wile watching Matchstick Men is the same feeling that Yankees fans have had the last two years, and the same feeling that Harry himself had watching Rollerball with McT in the same room with him. And from the test audience's lazy/half assed applause and the end of the film, and over hearing people's conversations as we were spilling out of the theater, I'm not alone in my opinion.

First off, the lame, totally derivative story feels like movie committee screenwriting 101. Matchstick Men, to sum it up, is about two con artists, also called Matchstick Men, Roy (Nicolas Cage ) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) (The Sting meets...) who are about to pull of the con of their lifetime (... Ocean's 11 meets...). Then Roy finds out that he has a 14 year daughter Angela (Alison Lohman ), who he never knew he had, and before long, she moves in with Roy and stars to learn the con-game from Dad (...Paper Moon meets...). Oh yes, Roy also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (... As Good As It Gets meets...) and is starting to see a new shrink, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman) (... Analyze This ) to help him cope with this. One major problem with the story is that it is way too predictable. Anyone who has seen their share of con/heist films, or who even has half a brain for that matter will be two steps ahead of the characters and the plot.

Yes, it's as awful, and even worse than it sounds. Let me describe this one scene for you... Roy picks up Angela from school, and says to her, “Today we will do anything you want.” Cut to a close up of Angela smiling with the opening cords to Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” kicking in on the soundtrack, over a montage of Angela and Roy bowling in a bowling alley with “Brown Eyed Girl” continuing on the soundtrack. Yes, I kid not!

It sounds like a comedy right? Sure there are some slap stick moments, especially early on, but none are laugh out loud funny, and scenes that should have been, like Roy cleaning his house non-stop, eating nothing but canned tuna, and freaking out if some one doesn't take off their shoes in his house was met with mostly dead silence by the audience, partly because it's not that funny to begin with (it's pathetic), and partly because Nic Cage plays it to seriously. So then it's a drama, right? Well, it's too slap sticky to be a drama. So it's a family film about Fathers and Daughters right? Could be, but there is too much violence and blood (enough to be a borderline R) for a family film. So it's a violent action film right? Um, no, there is plenty of violence, but very little action or suspense for that matter. So it's a buddy film then, right? Um, again, no because Rockwell and Cage have only a hand full of scenes together. So here lies the main problem with the film... it was all over the map! Scott seemed to not be aware of what he was making, and for whom exactly he was making this film for. I give him credit for trying to work in genres that he hasn't worked in before, but it should have been clear cut who, specifically what audience he was making this film for.

Another flaw with the film, a major one in my opinion is the three leads. I loved Nic Cage is Adaptation, I thought that Rockwell gave a star making performance in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and there are moments in Matchstick Men where one can sense that Lohman has star protential. But their characters are all unlikable. Cage overplays the obsessive-compulsive disorder with non-stop tics, stuttering, and facial gestures. This is not Cage the actor from Adaptation, but Cage, the HAM. Rockwell, whose part is shockingly underwritten, perhaps for fear of being up staged by Cage, overdoes his scenes as well. And Lohman, as hard as she tries, never makes Angela as likeable as she should have been.

Is there anything that Scott can do to salvage this mess? Probably not. The cut I saw was over two hours and the ending totally did not work. Perhaps finding all of the sort of comedic scenes, cutting them together, filming a new comedic ending, keeping the film to 90 minutes or under, and marketing it as a comedy and maybe it would be semi-passable. But as of now, I'm sorry, but this one is the bottom of the barrel. Yes, I can't believe I'm saying this, but even worse than G.I. Jane.

I have faith that Ridley Scott, like my beloved NY Yankees will once again hit one right out of the ball park... but please, take some time off and get some needed rest first.

Mean Mr. Mustard Out

Youch. This review was so rough that I asked our friend to write up her thoughts on the movie. She was worried about giving spoilers away, so tread lightly here...

Harry and Moriarty:

I am keeping it brief and to the point; MATCHSTICK MEN is a movie that you do not want to think about too much before you go in. I feel guilty even saying that, because in suggesting thinking about not thinking, I may have revealed too much. No one hates spoilers more than I do, so there will be a couple of well-marked exits in this report and I emphatically recommend that the purists take them. (Nor am I going to give away the entire film in the rest of the piece for those heathens that are into that sort of thing.)

Roy (Nicholas Cage) and Frank (Sam Rockwell) are con artists who run a nice telephone scam telling people they can avoid the gift tax on the prizes they have "won" if they just buy a three hundred dollar water filter and make the whole deal a "business transaction". It's easy, it's neat, and it's a job so simple to pull that Roy and Frank can cover each other's back if something does not go smoothly. It's also exactly how Roy likes his cons because his life is complicated enough without all the extra work of a long-term cheat. So suddenly becoming a father to teenager Angela (Alison Lohman), Roy has to make some major changes to his existence on both a personal and professional level.

If you want to be completely sucked into a solid, character-driven, and OH MY GOD MIRACLES OF MIRACLES A THIRD ACT IN HOLLYWOOD, go see this film. But stop reading now, anything else I will say will take away a bit of the magic of this movie. No, I mean it. Go in this blind. Stop reading.

Still here?

Cage and Lohman play so well off of each other it is easy to get wrapped up in the emotional mess that is the father and daughter reunion. Roy cannot handle being a dad, admitting that he can barely be himself. Being father to teenage daughter is a tough test on even the roughest men and Roy is so ill-equipped to handle this new responsibility he resorts to using the "shame, shame, shame" finger when he runs out of things say after Angela sneaks back in the house late one night. Even harder though, is explaining to his daughter what it is he really does for a living because he desperately wants her to lead a more moral life than he has. Roy's cover of being an antiques dealer does not last too long and after some begging to from Angela learn the trade, (like all good teenage girls, Angela knows how to scare a father into submission by bringing up her sex life), Roy finds himself taking great pride in the natural skills Angela shows in swindling strangers.

I would turn back now, because here it comes.

Spoiler city, sweetheart.

If there was ever an actor meant to play a character with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it is Nicholas Cage. Whatever vein he tapped into in releasing the Kaufman brothers from within comes gushing out even more so with Roy. The film quickly and adeptly takes the audience into Roy's world of closed windows, clean carpeting, and doggie trinkets that you almost accept him as the normal one the criminal duo. Sam Rockwell's Frank, well, how should I say it… as an audience we are so used to his "smile and wink sales guy attitude" these days its no shock to see how handily he pries money out of old ladies. He also works with Roy just as well, knowing where paper bags are at all times in case of a panic attack and making sure his partner takes his meds on schedule when things get a bit too freakish. The movie is made upon Lohman's energetic portrayal of the Angela that makes the whole set-up work. (So much so that I now feel bad for skipping out of WHITE OLEANDER.) The ease of which we fall in love with her is the ultimate con in a movie of hustlers defrauding hustlers and says much about how well director Ridley Scott knows how to play to a crowd.

Have I told you everything about the film? Hell, no. The end twists and turns as much you would expect a story about swindlers would and the pay-off is well worth it. (More so than most movies of late.) This was the first screening of the film so lord knows what editing changes can happen between now and the release. I only had one small issue with the story: Don't try to explain a con at the very end. Their shame is enough to redeem the character without the hokey excuse for being a thief.


The Princess

Wow. Couldn't be two more different reviews. And before you bellow "PLANT!" at The Princess, she's actually been to the last few BNATs and is, simply put, a big honkin' film geek who loves movies, and nothing more. Sounds like she and Mean Mr. Mustard just saw different films. I'm curious which one we'll see when the film hits later this year...

"Moriarty" out.

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