Movie Review: The Con is On (2018)

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Although it was inspired by The Palm Beach Story and A Fish Called Wanda, the latest film from The Devil You Know co-writer/director James Oakley (credited here as James Haslam) winds up proving why movies that great are few and far between.

After spending three years on the shelf (incidentally half the length his previous film toiled there before going directly to DVD), Haslam's heist comedy – first dubbed The Brits Are Coming is now finally seeing the flickering light of the silver screen following its completion in 2015.

Given a title that fans of Steve Martin's Bowfinger might remember as that movie's tagline, much like Bowfinger, The Con is On stacks the deck with a recognizable group of character actors who've made careers out of stealing scenes in films of all shapes and genres but it doesn't work half as well as it did in Martin's similarly L.A. set '99 comedy.

Having blown a bag full of drug money that they were supposed to pass along to a fellow crook on a night of drunken gambling instead, married con artists Harriet and Peter Fox (gamely played by Uma Thurman and Tim Roth) trade London for Los Angeles where they hope they can steal, smuggle, and cheat their way out of debt and death.

Unfortunately, as soon as our leads land stateside The Con loses its way, giving Roth and Thurman plus Stephen Fry, Alice Eve, Crispin Glover, Sofia Vergara, and company very little to do but try and sprinkle some stardust on an overall disaster and hope their combined charisma alone can carry it to the finish line.

Further complicating matters is the film's complete lack of focus. Unsure whether it wants to be a caper comedy, a con movie, or a Hollywood satire, the incoherent script by James Haslam and Alex Michaelides manages to be a dozen different things before it even reaches its halfway point but none of it's successful.

And when your main stars think they're in a heist movie, castmates Glover, Eve, Vergara, and Parker Posey play up the Hollywood angle, and Maggie Q shows up as a slightly funnier version of her famous small screen role as Nikita, things get increasingly nonsensical fast.

Instead of trying to build a few great double and triple crosses to try and sell it as a convoluted caper comedy, the film goes for cheap laughs and nearly creates a new drinking game out of how many times a majority of its female performers (and one male) suddenly demands that Glover or Roth f***s them.

In the end, Haslam wastes not only his stellar cast and terrific set pieces but also a jazzy score quite well-suited to the picture's purported caper genre. And although Vergara manages to deliver a solid laugh or two in one of her earliest scenes and the rest of its stars have a couple moments while contentedly playing along, this time it's the viewer who gets conned when they stop and consider just how great the film could've actually been.

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