When professional con man Richard Gaddis (Reilly) meets wannabe huckster Rodrigo (Luna) in a casino, he decides to take him on as an apprentice. But who's conning whom?
David Mamet's House Of Cards is probably the nearest comparison point for this well-crafted scam flick (even if it's an almost shot-for-shot photostat of Argentinean film Nine Queens), but while Mamet's exquisitely wrought tale of con and counter-con had a dark psychological bass note thrumming underneath its smooth plot machinations, Criminal is more a light-hearted parlour game. It leads its willing audience a merry dance, leaving them dizzy and breathless with the endless reversals, but really none the wiser as to what the point of the jig had been in the first place.
John C. Reilly, making a welcome appearance in a lead role, is effective as the older con man, and Diego Luna (having made up for Dirty Dancing 2) is winsome as his protégé. The screenplay, meanwhile, has some early fun delineating various low-rent scams which the older man teaches the younger.
But there's a flaw – what Hitchcock would have referred to wryly as a 'refrigerator moment'. In this case, it's the fact that the original set-up requires a coincidence that couldn't possibly be adequately planned by the various plotters. It's a shame, because when a film has only its plot going for it, that plot has to stand up to close scrutiny.
Apart from an irritating plot glitch this is a solidly entertaining ride, more than competently directed and played.
Reviewed by Adam Smith