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Tangled Webs

Of grifters and one schizophrenic.

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Sometimes, kid, style can get you killed."

Words to live by in an age of roll-over SUVs, $250 tennis shoes, and Texas-sized cowboy patriotism. Such is the mantra of "The King" -- not Elvis, mind you, but a gnomish, hyperactive, bisexual Dustin Hoffman as revealed to smooth grifter Jake Vig (Edward Burns). The King practices what he preaches, unshaven, unkempt in unflattering, rumpled short-sleeved shirts and his glasses dangling around his neck. Jake, on the other hand, looks reeeeal good. Nice suit, nice haircut, and just the right narrow-eyed poker face that can effortlessly reel in equal amounts chicks and scams.

The inescapable bond between these two men: Jake has inadvertently scammed the wrong man -- the King -- of $150,000. The King, in return, has had one of Jake's team, Big Al, killed off. Jake wants revenge for his buddy's death, and the King wants his money back. So, Jake gutsily waltzes into the King's lair, proposes a con that will set things aright, and the King, smitten with Jake's looks, moxie, and "style," dangerous as it is, sets him to work.

The Grift: Morgan Price (Robert Forster), sleazy mob heir and oily banker -- archnemesis of the King and ripe for the plucking. The Plan: fake an upstart business that will secure a loan from an unsuspecting, horny lending officer. The Bait: luscious Rachel Weisz.

Remember her? She's the hottie from The Mummy and About a Boy. She's Lily here, who casually picks Jake's pocket one day. Smitten, Jake seeks her out when he needs a replacement for Big Al. And who can resist Edward Burns' smile? Few, when there's a $5 million payoff attached to it. That's right. This is no paltry six-figure con. Five mil. This attracts the attention of special agent Gunther Butan (Andy Garcia), who has been on Jake's trail for years. The magnitude of this con is so huge and Jake's ego so swelled that this is just the scheme for Butan to finally nab his man. He blackmails two of Jake's cronies (Luis Guzman and Donal Logue), dirty L.A. cops, into setting up Jake's fall even as they scheme for the money themselves. Jake's plan is further complicated by the presence of Lupus (Frankie G.), henchman of the King, assigned to assist Jake while keeping a watchful (and, again, smitten) eye on him.

Confidence is all about Jake's meticulous navigation through this tangled web, where it is virtually impossible to tell the spiders from the flies. As far as tangled webs go, this one is great fun.

I went on a preview night with my blue-haired pal Jesse and, in a trivia game, won a bag of Bend It Like Beckham stuff by correctly identifying Midnight Cowboy as Dustin Hoffman's X-rated Oscar nomination. Sneak previews are fun, and this one was especially so because lots and lots of kids were there with parents who were either uninformed or uninterested in the fact that this movie is very rated-R. So, the first couple of times the F-word came up, there were some nervous titters. Then there was some rough violence, soliciting sighs and moans. THEN there was hot lesbian sex in a show-booth at an adult club and there were gasps and squeals! In that scene, the King scolds two female strippers for performing cunnilingually while billing themselves as actual sisters. Poor form! The King runs a classy establishment after all. I think this moralizing satisfied concerned parents because nobody left the theater.

Confidence is a poor man's Ocean's Eleven -- lower budget, smaller-name cast, smaller-name director. (Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh of Traffic helmed

Eleven while Confidence director James Foley has Who's That Girl? on his résumé.) Mostly, though, what Confidence lacks is a George Clooney. Clooney IS cool. He needs no cool lessons, nor does he have to swagger to achieve it. He's likable, confident, capable, and women want him while men want to be him -- the measure of a true Hollywood superstar stud.

Edward Burns is a poor man's Richard Gere, and what fails Confidence is a lack of heart. Jake's dilemma is entirely cold, calculated, and without emotional payoff. It's all about a revenge that isn't entirely motivated and, of course, the money. More fun is Hoffman, draining all possible glee out of his few minutes of screentime as the twitching, megalomaniacal lech. Also rewarding: watching honey Rachel Weisz ascend the ranks to credible leading lady with more strength, style, and oomph than Burns deserves.

Regardless, there is a joy to watching Confidence intricately unfold, with surprises at every corner and surprises within every surprise. Check your heart at the door, and let your brain be tickled for an hour or so watching well-dressed crooks achieve their American dream by embezzling ours. -- Bo List

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