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Matchstick Men (PG-13)
Warner Brothers
Official Site
Director: Sir Ridley Scott
Producers: Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey, Sean Bailey, Ted Griffin
Written by: Ted Griffin and Nicholas Griffin; based on the novel by Eric Garcia
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman, Bruce Altman, Bruce McGill

Rating: out of 5

As Matchstick Men opens, the audience meets Roy (Cage), a man with a lot of emotional baggage. Fourteen years ago, under cloudy circumstances, he broke up with a woman who was pregnant with a child that might have been his. He’s never really gotten over it, but has developed two things by way of compensation: obsessive-compulsive disorder and a fabulously successful career as a con man. So Roy has a very fancy house that he is always cleaning. Anytime someone rings his bell, he has to open the door three times, then he asks the guest to remove his or her shoes. Roy is a compulsive smoker, which certainly amplifies his generally high-strung vibe, but does seem like a less than sterile habit. And he’s afraid to go outdoors.

Otherwise, life is not too bad. The two flim-flam men have a good gig going, but then Roy loses his medicine and can’t hold it together well enough to perform. In seeing a new therapist (Altman) for a prescription, he is encouraged to inquire into the events of his past. Into Roy’s life comes Angela (Lohman), the 14-year-old daughter he has never previously met.

And I’m sure you saw this one coming: Angela’s crazy 14-year-old ways really disrupt Roy’s buttoned-down routine. At the same time, Roy begins to feel protective of her and thinks maybe he should get out of his dangerous business. Frank is pushing for the “big score,” and Angela appears to have an inclination and talent for the grift.

That’s the setup. A lot of threads there, I know. But there’s not much more to say about Matchstick Men. There are better movies, but there worse ones, too. The performances are all solid but none are terribly inspired. The plot features a neat little twist near the end, and it’s, you know, kind of cool, but no “Keyser Sose.”

Matchstick Men is a mildly enjoyable diversion, but even on that level could have been more than it is. The film cannot decide what it wants to be. Is Roy’s illness, for example, funny? Or is it sad? Is the film a light-hearted con movie, a chronicle of father/daughter reconciliation, a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy about a 14-year-old girl living in such an unwholesome environment, or an examination of life with OCD? There’s no law against doing all of these things simultaneously, but only a really great movie could juggle so many disparate balls at once. Matchstick Men, however, is not a really great movie—only a big studio late-summer release with a bit too much ambition. The film develops each of its angles in a half-assed way, phoning in just enough energy to any one storyline so there’s none left over for another. Matchstick Men has an interesting premise, but never really gets off the ground.

—Mike O’Connor


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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It’s worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

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