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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Steve Martin's face is amazing. Forget the props he used in the '70s: What more does he need than his squinty eyes, rubbery cheeks, and expressive mouth? With just a twitch of his grin, Martin can play sweet (Roxanne), frustrated and befuddled (Parenthood, Father of the Bride), or — in the case of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels — deliciously snarky. As Freddy Benson, one half of a dueling duo of con artists working the French Riviera, Martin's every move and expression prove that he's embracing his inner cad, and he couldn't be funnier. Freddy is a loud, obnoxious American who's happily grifting for a living — using various sob stories to con women into buying him meals and other low-stakes prizes — when he crosses paths with suave, debonair Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine). Lawrence plays the same game Freddy does, but for much bigger stakes. Despite Lawrence's attempts to class Freddy up, the two don't work well as a team, so they bet their beautiful beach territory on tender-hearted American actress Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly) — the first one to bilk her out of $50,000 wins, and the loser clears out for good. What follows is a string of hilarious double-crosses and a hugely satisfying surprise ending. While the movie has some slightly uneven bits — Martin's scenes as Ruprecht the Monkey Boy are very funny, but awfully far-fetched — it ultimately succeeds thanks to director Frank Oz's willingness to let his stellar cast do what they do best: make us laugh. Martin and Caine are a riot, especially when the movie moves into high gear in the second act, and the Steppenwolf-trained Headly more than holds her own. With Oz's help, the trio makes this remake of Marlon Brando and David Niven's Bedtime Story wholly their own, creating the kind of old-fashioned, lighthearted con comedy that's hard to resist — especially when you stumble across it on cable on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Of course, you could always grab a copy of MGM's DVD instead. The strong anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) lets the gorgeous Riviera scenery sparkle, and the English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is crisp (other options include French and Spanish 2.0 tracks and an array of subtitles). Extras include the original trailer, a teaser trailer (which uses a funny scene not included in the movie), a seven-minute "making-of" featurette from 1988, and a chatty commentary with Oz that's full of fond reminiscing — he must say about 10 times that the movie was a delight to shoot. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech



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