With the help of a talking freeway billboard, a "wacky weatherman" tries to win the heart of an English newspaper reporter, who is struggling to make sense of the strange world of early-90s Los Angeles.
Richard E. Grant
Wealthy native Brit Lawrence Jamieson, living in Beaumont-sur-Mer on the French Riviera, earns most of his money through big cons on wealthy unsuspecting women. With the help of his associates - corrupt police Inspector Andre, who provides him most of his intel, and his butler Arthur - he pulls scams such as pretending to be a foreign deposed prince who needs money to finance a secret war to liberate his people. Beaumont-sur-Mer and thus his world is invaded by brash American Freddy Benson, another con man whose targets are also wealthy unsuspecting women. Lawrence believes Freddy is the Jackal, a con man whose true identity is unknown but who is known to be working his way through Europe. While Lawrence works on thousands of dollars per scam, Freddy works only on tens or if he is lucky hundreds of dollars. Lawrence's efforts to get Freddy out of his territory are unsuccessful, so when Freddy figures out that Lawrence is a con man like him, he decides to blackmail Lawrence to work ... Written by
Glenne Headly was named Most Promising New Actress winning a CFCA Award at the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards in 1989. See more »
There is no train station in Portofino. See more »
Freddy, as a younger man, I was a sculptor, a painter, and a musician. There was just one problem: I wasn't very good. As a matter of fact, I was dreadful. I finally came to the frustrating conclusion that I had taste and style, but not talent. I knew my limitations. We all have our limitations, Freddy. Fortunately, I discovered that taste and style were commodities that people desired. Freddy, what I am saying is: know your limitations. You are a moron.
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This film made an impression on me before I even saw it. I was in a theater, and a trailer for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" came on. While a voice-over talked about the value of movies promoting morality and civility, you saw Martin and Caine strolling along a beachfront, smiling beneficently as they greet passers-by. Then Caine shoved cotton candy into a kids face while Martin pushed a woman off a ledge.
It's a great sequence, and is featured on the DVD with its own commentary from director Frank Oz (when has that ever happened before?) but a little misleading. Actually, while both men are scoundrels, neither is quite that vile. Caine's Lawrence Jamieson is actually a bit of an altruist, as we find out, with a code of only taking in people who can afford to be taken, and finding ways of spending the money that are not entirely self-serving. Martin's Freddy Benson is less disciplined and more small-time in his cons; he'll steal candy from a baby and tell you it's for his poor sick Gram-Gram if caught, but he is likeable, too, an underdog with little idea how the game is played at the highest levels, but eager to learn.
The fact you can like these characters is a compliment to Martin and Caine, as well as director Oz and the team of writers. Tone is everything with a film like this, and as Oz says in his commentary, so important in making the comedy work. He notes he was going for a 1950s feel in the picture, I'm guessing with Hitchcock's "To Catch A Thief" in mind. The great score by Miles Goodman is solid enough to deserve its own CD reissue, with an air of light sophistication that buoys the proceedings on screen. Most importantly, since much of the comedy involves people taking advantage of one another, having everything put forward in such a gossamer manner helps you digest the story without leaving a bad taste.
Martin shines in many scenes, especially when playing Ruprecht the idiot man-child and when stuck in jail trying to remember the name of the only man he thinks can bail him out ("James Lawrenceton...no, wait, James Jesterton....no, no, it's definitely, um...") I knew Martin could be funny, and with the exception of "All Of Me" this is probably his best comedic performance, but Caine is a revelation. A straight man, yes, but with delicate timing and some clever characterizations that he pulls out of a bag, like an Germanic psychiatrist with some unusual ideas about curing lameness. You forget how good Caine is in comedy, despite his performances in films like this, "Blame It On Rio," and "Without A Clue." Glenne Headly is a revelation as the woman caught in the middle of Jamieson and Benson's scheming, every bit as good as her male counterparts, but say no more.
Great actors, great tone, but the plot is the best thing this film has. It's a remake of a 1964 film "Bedtime Story," which teamed Marlon Brando and David Niven for what should have been a dream team but went flat instead. This time, the script is helped by actors who can not only deliver funny lines but make them funnier, and by an ending (according to Oz in his commentary, one worked out over several long dinner meetings with Martin) that is simply perfect.
Finally, Oz needs to be recognized. He was only making his second non-Muppet film here, but the result in my view is one of the best comedies anyone has ever done. He manages to get the best from everyone, including the actors and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (some amazing night shots of the French Rivera waterfront you never tire of looking at), and delivers a rare jewel of a film, a laugh-out-loud comedy that leaves you with a warm feeling inside.
Ian McDairmid plays Arthur the butler in this, teaming him with Oz yet again. Almost titled this review "Yoda And Palpatine On The French Riviera;" it's interesting McDairmid plays the one guy in "Scoundrels" who's really on the level.
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