Movies about con-artists and the heists they attempt to pull off are a dime a dozen, so overexposed it takes great skill and imagination to make one of these things worth sitting through. Despite not being a fan of 2001's similar "The Score
" and even more similar "Heist
," where, once again, the tired conventions of the genre reared their ugly heads, at least they brought occasional suspense to the table. As cliched as most heist sequences are, if they are edited and performed just right, and the director under the helm knows what he or she is doing, then tension can be milked for all it's worth.
"Confidence," directed by James Foley (1999's "The Corrupter
") and written by Doug Jung as if they were David Mamet's less-talented brothers, plays its con games out like an instruction manual that, for all its big words and fancy lettering, isn't very informative and far from arresting. Without the brief stylish interludes that pop up every now and again, the film is a tedious and twisting slog that, by the end, closes its fist on thin air. There is not a moment of true depthcharacter, narrative, or otherwisein a single frame of this 98-minute waste of time.
Jake Vig (Edward Burns) is a slick and sneaky con man who, at the beginning, has found himself in hot water: he is being held at gunpoint by a mystery man named Travis (Morris Chestnut). Enter the elongated flashback motif, as Jake explains how he has found himself in this dire situation. The head honcho of a scam group that includes young player Miles (Brian Van Holt), wise guy Gordo (Paul Giamatti), and the undervalued Big Al (Louis Lombardi), Jake makes the mistake of choosing a bad mark that leaves Big Al dead and their $150,000 take belonging to the underground crime boss known as King (Dustin Hoffman). To make amends and pay their debt, King picks a new mark for Jake and the gangbank owner Morgan Price (Robert Forster), worth $5 million in cold hard cash. Aiding in the heist is Lupus (Franky G.), one of King's men, and sultry pickpocket Lily (Rachel Weisz), whom Jake is uncontrollably smitten with. Meanwhile, possibly crooked federal agent Gunthar Butan (Andy Garcia) is hot on their trail.
Continuing with the similes, "Confidence" is like a factory conveyer belt, and the viewer is put in the position of being the tired employee who must see the same thing go past them again and again and again. Whatever fun is to be had in a heist caper comes from one of two sources: the unpredictable skewering of expectations, or the involved and exciting depiction of the crime itself. "Confidence" does nothing to live up to the former trait, and the latterfor all of its twists and turnsis strictly by-the-numbers, unable to even once ratchet up a sense of nervous fun.
Had the characters been worth caring about, sympathetic or at least rudimentarily developed, then the climactic proceedings would have given off the vital feeling that something was at stake. Ultimately, the screenwriting creations posing as real people are vaguely drawn types. Jake is the leader, the most talented con man who, nonetheless, knows when enough is enough and things are getting too risky. Lily is the stock sexy female role, there to look innocent and then guilty, and then innocent again. Edward Burns (2002's "Life or Something Like It
") and Rachel Weisz (2002's "About a Boy
") fit well into these roles, but are unchallenged by the material. The rest of the gang are nearly interchangeable. Only King, played with deliciously threatening and "hypersensitive" energy by Dustin Hoffman (2002's "Moonlight Mile
"), has any sort of creative nuances.
There are plot developments in the conclusion that are unforeseen, to be sure, but they are equally unsurprising. The characters flip-flop sides so much in the last fifteen minutes that viewers may get whiplash, but aside from possible physical injury, they likely won't care one way or the other. "Confidence" wants to be hip, wants to be sexy, and wants to be wickedly tricky, but it is all for nothing. There is a vacuous, dull-witted black hole at the center of this film's every move, and victim sucked into it are the unlucky viewers.