Criminal (2004) / Thriller-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual references
Running time: 87 min.

Cast: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann, Jonathan Tucker, Malik Yoba
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Screenplay: Gregory Jacobs, Sam Lowry (Steven Soderbergh) (Based on the screenplay "Nueve Reinas" by Fabian Bielinsky)
Review published April 25, 2005


Criminal is Nine Queens for people who don’t like to read subtitles.  That said, it’s not really an inferior film, as it does touch pretty much the same bases as the original, but it is so much of a carbon copy, it seems a bit superfluous to remake so soon.  If you’ve already seen Nine Queens, you’ve seen all Criminal has to offer, unless you really like the film’s stars.  If you haven’t seen either film, I’d choose the original, and would only recommend the American remake for those who adamantly refuse to watch a foreign film with actors they don’t recognize.

The movie starts off with young crook Rodrigo (Diego Luna, The Terminal) trying to pull off a two-bit con game with the waitresses at a California casino.  He gets caught, but a bigger fish con man, Richard (John C. Reilly, Chicago), saves his bacon, and offers Rodrigo a chance to be his partner in crime.  They both pull off some petty jobs, working well together, but they think they’ve scored big when some counterfeit bills turn up, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the right buyer, and they know just the guy to sell them to.   

I've liked John C. Reilly in the many supporting roles I’ve seen him in over the years, but even he has his limitations, and in Criminal, Reilly does fall a bit short.  This is a role that requires a crafty con man that is smooth as silk, able to use his silver-tongued words to convince even people who know he is on the make that he means what he says.  Somehow, Reilly always appears like he has something up his sleeve, to the detriment of his character’s abilities, and comes off like an unlikable hothead.  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do business with him, whether or not his business is legit.  Contrast this to George Clooney’s Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven and you can see how anyone could end up dealing with a charismatic devil over an agitated crank like Richard.

On the other hand, Diego Luna is spot-on as Richard’s protégé, Rodrigo, and it is due to his performance that Criminal enjoys some modicum of credibility.  He is naïve but he’s no dummy, and knows how to use the appearance of sincerity to con his way into money, or when he’s caught, out of trouble.  Even though he is a crook, he is still wholly likeable, which is one of the main components to any successful con man’s repertoire.

While Criminal doesn’t really deliver in nail-biting suspense, it is always interesting, and it does run at a very efficient clip, getting the job done in less than 90 minutes.  The only unfortunate thing is, it will always be in the shadow of its more alluring predecessor, making this a film that will be watched only by those ignorant of the original, or the curious.

Qwipster's rating:

©2005 Vince Leo