4 December 2013 9:00 AM, PST | Variety - Film News | See recent Variety - Film News news »

You’ve seen smoother, more elegant con movies than “American Hustle,” but probably none quite so big-hearted or so rudely, insistently entertaining. As directed by that master of modern farce, David O. Russell, this sprawling fictionalized account of the notorious Abscam case is less a dramatic FBI procedural than a human comedy writ large, ringing a series of screwball variations on themes of duplicity and paranoia against a dazzling ’70s backdrop. Deliriously funny and brilliantly acted by a cast of Russell returnees, the film is also overlong, undisciplined and absent the sort of emotional payoff that made “Silver Linings Playbook” so satisfying, which could affect its otherwise solid theatrical prospects. Still, this star-studded Sony prestige release is a near-continual pleasure to spend 135 minutes with, repeatedly hitting that comic sweet spot where corruption and buffoonery collide.

After putting his sharp but crowd-pleasing stamp on the boxing drama with 2010’s “The Fighter »

- Justin Chang

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