Sometimes faithfulness is a virtue AND a vice.This much can be said for rookie feature director Gregory Jacobs: In remaking Fabián Bielinski's cleverly entertaining Argentinean caper film Nueve reinas (Nine Queens), Jacobs keenly understands what made the original work.
A protégé of Steven Soderbergh, who co-wrote the new screenplay with Jacobs under the pseudonym Sam Lowry, Jacobs retools the locations from Buenos Aries to Los Angeles, but leaves the immaculately crafted storyline intact.
Jacobs' fidelity creates an intriguing dilemma.
Because Criminal follows Nueve reinas almost beat-for-beat, viewers who've seen the first film will miss out on the jolts that came from watching the story the first time.
It's like listening to a good cover band play a tune that's been on the radio. They don't ruin the song, but they do nothing eliminate the nagging déjà vu.
The new movie starts off in a casino, where a young fellow named Rodrigo (Diego Luna from Y tu mamá también) is pulling a simple but effective con on the waitresses. Rodrigo's charm is trumped by his counterintuitive habit of working in the same establishment he's hit before.
A fellow con artist named Richard Gaddis (John C. Reilly, Chicago) sees potential in the lad and recruits him as a reluctant partner. The two hook up with the forger Ochoa (Zitto Kazann), who has made a convincing copy of a rare U.S. Treasury note. Richard and Rodrigo then try to sell it to a fantastically wealthy collector (Peter Mullan) on a schedule so tight he won't learn the note's a fake for days.
Of course, the simple plan turns out to be more nightmarishly complex, and Richard should have known better than to conduct his illicit business in the hotel where his bitter sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works.
In addition to some cruel jokes that fate plays on them, the story in Criminal is fueled by William's ruthlessness and Rodrigo's habit of demonstrating that he's a lot more clever than he appears. Luna and Reilly make the most of their roles and do a fine job of bamboozling us as they do each other. It's also refreshing to see Reilly playing something other than a nebbish, although he doesn't quite have the suave quality that Ricardo Darín had in the original film.
Some of the charm of Nueve reinas was its Buenos Aries atmosphere. Argentina's banking woes at the time worked into the story and gave it a sense of authenticity that's not quite here.
Jacobs and Soderbergh do write some snappy banter (check out Reilly's monologue on insurance), but it still doesn't make up for the lack of novelty with this version.
Seeing Criminal is not quite like finding that Richard and Rodrigo have made off with your wallet, but its craftsmanship is more like Ochoa's forgeries than a genuine item.Criminal can be praised and damned for its fidelity to the Argentinean masterpiece Nine Queens.