When a film mires on the shelf at a studio after it’s in the can for a few years, it generally means one of two things — either the studio doesn’t have much confidence in it, or it doesn’t know how to market it. The Con is On is a new con-artist vs. con-artist caper somewhat in the vein of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and it falls largely into the second camp. We’d first heard about it as The Brits are Coming a few years ago when it had a 2016 release date then it fell off the radar. Cut to only a few weeks ago that we find out it’s being given a limited release and now available via VOD.
The film stars Uma Thurman as Harriet and Tim Roth as Peter, who play a pair of petty criminals who are on the run from a London gang boss, Irina (played by Maggie Q), to whom they owe a large debt. They arrive in Los Angeles to try to swindle some cash from Peter’s rather flighty ex-wife, Jackie (played by Alice Eve). Crispin Glover is Jackie’s unfaithful film-producer husband, Gabriel.
Directed and co-written by James Haslam, it’s an enjoyable enough event, mostly carried by the cast, who seem to all be having a blast playing these entirely over-the-top caper-film archetypes. Roth’s Peter has to achieve some kind of record of single-handedly pounding back more martinis and straight vodka than any other single character in cinematic history. Seriously, in every scene he isn’t just holding a drink, but pouring, slamming, and tossing the glass over his shoulder. Very likely a not insignificant portion of the film’s budget was spend on various glassware.
It’s a film wherein the biggest plus is in the characters themselves chewing up the scenery; no, Roth isn’t Robert Downey Jr‘s performance in Bang Bang, but they are at least of a kindred spirit. Thurman’s Harriet is definitely the leader of the two, since Peter would rather be drinking than breathing. She is the one who figures out various antics to try to score a big enough haul to pay off their debt, but things don’t really seem to be going their way.
There’s various scenes that are a kick, including Harriet winding up being a dog whisperer for Jackie’s pet chihuahua, and an ill-advised attempt to steal Jackie’s $4 million wedding ring. Anytime Stephen Fry is on screen as LA’s local underboss, Sidney, he just seems too amused by everything swirling around him to be overly concerned. He serves primarily as an analogue for the audience.
The final act, when Irina is closing in and the action needs to actually advance the plot towards a confrontation, is when things start to fall flat. The characters don’t have any energy when being told what to do, it seems, and forcing them towards a conclusion is when it goes from rather fun to just average.
Check out Fandango to see if the film is playing near you (the theatrical release is definitely limited); however, if nothing else you can queue it up on a VOD provider near you.
As a warning, do not attempt to keep up with Peter’s drinking — an alcoholic coma will undoubtedly result.
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