David O. Russell undersells his own work in this snarky re-imagining of the Ab-Scan scandal, turning out a Martin Scorsese homage, in style if not content: GOODFELLAS-lite. Even finding a spot (uncredited) for Robert De Niro’s threatening comic shtick, his only string these days. The film follows a couple of sharpies (Christian Bale & Amy Adams) who get caught running mid-level cons by Bradley Cooper’s blindly ambitious Fed agent. But Cooper isn’t content nabbing small fry, not when he can use them to go after politicians, industrialists & mob guys. Jazzed-up by the possibilities, and by Adams’ cool heat, this would-be con master doesn’t know he’s left himself open to be played. Though a bit complicated in the telling, particularly in the first act, things settle down for some good, nasty fun, with zippy comic support anywhere you turn; blood drawn as needed. Louis C. K., as Bradley’s harried boss, and Jennifer Lawrence as Bale’s infuriating dumb-bunny wife are particularly fine. As are the three leads, Cooper, making good on earlier promising perfs; Bale, daringly broad to fine effect; and the preternaturally gifted Amy Adams, bosoms flying, showing what Jane Fonda might be like if she could only act. The comedy is often LOL funny, but also very bleak, with a voice not much seen or heard on the big screen since the heyday of Richard Condon adaptations like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE/’62 and PRIZZI’S HONOR/’85. And, like those classics, the black, absurdist tone resonates with some, but may fall completely flat with their neighbors. If we could just get Russell to trust his audience & himself a little bit more with his tune.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above: GOODFELLAS/’90; THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (the original John Frankenheimer, please); PRIZZI’S HONOR.