2018 | DIR: JAMES OAKLEY | STARRING UMA THURMAN, TIM ROTH, ALICE EVE, SOFIA VERGARA, MAGGIE Q, PARKER POSEY, STEPHEN FRY, CRISPIN GLOVER | REVIEW BY ALEX MAYNARD.
Although married con artists Harriet and Peter (Thurman and Roth) are undeniably at THE CON IS ON’s centre, I can’t overstate how impressive the entire ensemble is. The mix of household names and cinephiles’ favourites is inspired and works better than I first imagined, leading to absurd plot threads like a love triangle between Sofia Vergara, Alice Eve and Crispin Glover. Indeed, this trio manage to breathe life into the tired trope of fictional celebrities being air-headed and vain; for instance, the self-importance given to each variation on the line “I’m making a film!” becomes laugh-out-loud funny.
Even when the jokes played out as expected, such as an extended ‘dog whisperer’ gag, they stuck the landing surprisingly well. Interestingly though, it is Harry and Peter who ultimately exude the most effortless swagger. As a result, watching them constantly deceive only to get away with it at every turn feels less like lazy writing, and more like the assuredness of old pros. Finally, it would be remiss of me to discuss the cast without mentioning how brilliant Stephen Fry is, here seeming to delight in playing a winking devil and featuring more prominently than I’d anticipated (to say any more about his role would verge on spoilers).
However, the setup bringing these characters together is nowhere near as compelling as their chemistry. Most egregiously, the writers favour alluding to Harry and Peter’s pasts rather than showing the viewer what transpired. Similarly, the film’s few flashback sequences are unfortunately vague, with Maggie Q’s mob boss/antagonist Irina consequently suffering from a severe lack of characterisation. Regardless of how many times I was told Irina has been central to many of the leads’ exploits, she never came across as more than a caricature (Q, it must be said, does her best with the limited material). Meanwhile, Harry and Peter’s planned heist also goes fundamentally unchanged throughout, compounding the absence of any stakes. Oakley ostensibly intends for the film’s suspense to come from wondering when the duo will succeed rather than if they will at all, but is unable to pull off this twist on genre conventions.
Don’t let its awkward title fool you: THE CON IS ON is a largely enjoyable crime comedy in the vein of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, albeit on a smaller scale. Overall, it seems unlikely that the film will be remembered as either a climax or nadir in the filmography of anyone involved. Yet despite the stakes never truly feeling as life-and-death as the characters claim, the cast’s sheer charisma will allow most viewers to simply sit back and be entertained.