By many accounts, Criminal, the American retelling of the Argentine film Nueve Reinas, is a shade paler than the original. Nonetheless, Gregory Jacobs’ directorial debut should please audiences new to this who’s-screwing-who con man puzzler. Or, at the very least, the movie should win over fans of the outstanding cast: John C. Reilly (Chicago), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) or Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary).

Reilly brings his usual degree of quirkiness to Richard Gaddis, a small-time scam artist with a big-time ego. Richard takes amateur crook Rodrigo (Luna) under his wing, to teach him the finer points of running a successful scam. As the two con their way through Los Angeles, it seems that Rodrigo’s cleverness might make up for his inexperience. He also has two characteristics Richard lacks: a trustworthy face, which is an asset for a con man, and a conscience, which could be their downfall.

After what could be the score of a lifetime falls into their laps, the deceitful duo discover they need help from Richard’s nemesis, his sister Valerie (Gyllenhaal).

As the scam unfolds, fresh-faced Rodrigo must decide if he trusts tricky Richard, and Richard must win over icy cold Valerie.

Reilly is superb, never callous but always calculating. Luna leaves you wondering if there’s something more wicked behind his trustworthy mug. And Gyllenhaal plays off Reilly’s cockiness with unyielding loathing. It’s loads of fun to watch the sparks fly when these three actors go toe-to-toe.

While Criminal breaks no new ground, it’s amusing enough to watch the caper unfold — although we all know that somebody’s going get screwed in the end.

Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8, 211 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham. Call 248-644-FILM for more info.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to

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