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Dustin Hoffman is short.

© 2003, Lions Gate
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Jake Vig (Edward Burns, in a rare short haired appearance) is a deeply skilled grifter who has just pulled off a major score with his crew (including Paul Giamatti and Brian Van Holt). Trouble is, the loot belonged to a major criminal kingpin (Dustin Hoffman), who wants Jake to pull a job for him to make up the difference. Looking at a potential con that will net all the participants over 5 million dollars, Jake recruits a shadowy woman (Rachel Weisz, "The Mummy") to the team, and they set off to make the score. On their tail is a federal agent (Andy Garcia), who has past ties to Jake, and who won't stop until he makes sure Jake is behind bars for good.

The con artist genre has been bled pretty dry in recent years with such films as "Heartbreakers," "Catch Me If You Can," and "Ocean's Eleven." You can think of "Confidence" (IMDb listing) as "Ocean's Four," with everything about the film just a little smaller, and a little less effective than the Steven Soderbergh remake of 2001. Of course, there is fun in watching people steal from each other, and there always will be. But "Confidence" coasts a little too long on this charm, weaving together a confidence story that is all too aware of itself, and thus choking the life out of the fun.

Written by Doug Jung, "Confidence" delivers everything you'd expect: the tough guys, the kooky criminal mastermind, the femme fatale, crooked cops, and a every line of dialog punctuated with the F-word. This is tired material, but director James Foley ("Glengarry Glen Ross") gets the momentum moving early, and his storytelling is stylish and inoffensive. He pulls out every trick in the book to keep the barge afloat, and he's more successful than not. "Confidence" wouldn't turn too many heads in a crowded room, but as con films go, this is entertaining filmmaking and features a willing cast.

Even with all the smooth, hip con artist moves to watch, "Confidence" ultimately becomes so aware of audience participation, that it piles on the double-crosses, time switches, and multiple characters just to keep people guessing. Technically, and I'm loathe to admit this, it isn't terribly hard to figure out certain things that the film assumes to be fooling everyone. But in taking on such a twisty story, Foley loses the appeal that was there in the opening of the film, when things are a lot more streamlined. The overcompensation needed to keep the audience on their toes is too much, so when characters meet their ultimate fates, the expected reactions just aren't there. The audience is left behind, trying to keep it all together.

Maybe the biggest swindle "Confidence" made was tricking me into liking it. For fans of stylish thieves, wacky criminals, and well, cursing, this might be the umpteenth trip around the maypole with this plot, but it's a reasonable one worth a look.

Filmfodder Grade: B

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