johnlink ranks DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988)

I’ve seen most of Steve Martin’s work. He made a bunch of good stuff in the 80s and 90s, and there are few big titles I’ve left to see. One of those titles, though, was DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. I finally got a chance to knock that one off the list.


I watched DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) on 1.15.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a suave, debonair con artists. He is wonderful with women, especially rich women, and he is particularly good at getting them to give him money for causes which don’t actually exist. He travels around Europe, but makes his home in a high-class little town, which turns out to be the sweet spot of easy-to-fool rich ladies.

New to town is American Freddy Benson (Steve Martin). He is also a con artists, but his cons are uglier and much less sophisticated. His presence in Lawrence’s home town is annoying to the more classy con for two reasons. First, the sort of scam Freddy pulls offends Lawrence’s sensibilities. Secondly, Freddy is a danger to scare away the game.

Lawrence tries to rid himself of Freddy, but Freddy proves resilient. After much posturing, Lawrence agrees to train Freddy on how to con people the proper way. This culminates in a bet over who can first pilfer $50,000 from a young Soap Queen, Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly).

The hilarity is easy and fun in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS. Martin plays a smarter version of the character he mastered in THE JERK. He is bullish, goofy, and absolutely American. His best bits, though, are when he pretends to be the simple brother of Jamieson’s made up character. These bits are top-level humor. The fact that the story really takes an hour to get to its meat is ok, because we get that sort of funny to make the time go by.

Caine’s Jamieson is calm and smart. He plays long cons well. He may actually be lying about things which the movie never bothers to clarify. He lies as easily as he tells truth. His character is deeper than Martin’s, though he doesn’t get nearly the laughs. Glenne Headly proves able to keep up with these two pros. Her Janet is vulnerable and sweet. We see a twist coming long before our heroes (or are they our villains), but that is ok because this is a movie which is so easy to watch.

Director Frank Oz doesn’t get too cute with any of the filming of the movie. He knows this is a comedy showcasing the talents of Martin, Caine, and Headly. He stays out of the way, he allows some long takes of some funny bits (most notably when Freddy tries to remember Lawrence’s name in a jail cell), and he makes everything easy to follow. There aren’t a ton of twists and turns in DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, but the lies do pile up. Oz doesn’t feel the need to tell us or show us everything, and that is just fine.

This is not Martin’s top-level work, but it is absolutely a funny and breezy movie which is worth catching if it has passed you by.




FINAL SCORE: 6.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on January 17, 2015.

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