Fabián Bielinsky’s fun but trifling Nine Queens was well received by critics but barely made a blip at the box office, a fact Steven Soderbergh and his long-time assistant director Gregory Jacobs are perhaps looking to exploit with this lazy Americanization of the four-year-old film. Written by Jacobs and Sam Lowry (Soderbergh’s nom de plume), Criminal transplants Bielinsky’s double-crossing heist drama from Argentina to Los Angeles and changes the booty from rare stamps to rare money, but can’t be bothered to change much else. Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly) is a professional swindler who teaches a down-on-his-luck cholo (Diego Luna) the ropes after he catches the boy pulling a “change-for-a-hundred” con at a local casino. After orchestrating a number of innocent swindles, Richard takes on a major con that promises big returns for all parties involved. Except nothing is what it seems. Hoping to “keep things real,” Jacobs stages much of the film’s action in Los Angeles’s Latin hoods, but if Bielinsky’s film scarcely addressed the class difference between its two leads, Criminal is equally uninterested in the race issues that separate Richard and Rodrigo. Maybe it’s because Richard’s scams are equal opportunity (regardless of sex or race, he’ll screw anyone over for the contents of their wallet), but Luna’s presence in the film is not unlike that of a spice without flavor—a lame attempt to bring a certain Latin credibility to the project. Look no further than Richard’s attempt to make Rodrigo “more Anglo,” a moment that seems to say less about the older man’s societal gripes and more about the equally opportunistic Jacobs and Soderbergh’s desire to make a quick buck off a Latin product. A major problem with Criminal, and Nine Queens for that matter, is something that similarly afflicts M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village: Characters scarcely register as living, breathing people because to elaborate on the particulars of their lives would sacrifice the integrity of these films’ surprise endings. It’s a sad state of affairs when directors regard narrative trickery more highly than they do their characters, but Criminal’s biggest offense may be that Jacobs and his actors make absolutely no attempt to rewrite Nine Queens, using the original film in much the same way people teach themselves how to dance using those plastic sheets with black dancing feet drawn onto them. Someone who hasn’t seen Nine Queens may find something to like here, but if I wasn’t so smitten by Leticia Brédice’s ferocious catwalking in Bielinsky’s film, I might have responded more to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s almost step-for-step interpretation.
- Gregory Jacobs
- Gregory Jacobs, Sam Lowry
- John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan, Jonathan Tucker, Enrico Colantoni, Zitto Kazann, Michael Shannon, Malik Yoba
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