"So I'm dead," Jake Vig says when we meet him at night on a Los Angeles street (not Sunset Boulevard), and it certainly looks like he is: the blood, the gun, the arms and legs splayed just right, perfect for a chalk outline. But soon we learn he's a confidence man, and a good one, which means he lives in a house of games, where there's dead, and then there's "dead."
Like the self-assured charmer you just can't resist, Confidence lives up to its name: Written by first-timer Doug Jung and directed by James Foley, whose work ranges from the trivial (Reckless) to the refined (Glengarry Glenn Ross), Confidence is the hottie at the end of the bar who lets you dream that you might actually get some action. For 95 fleet minutes, this tease gives you some wood.
Confidence revolves around a team of roving con men led by the necessarily handsome Jake (Edward Burns, still likeably flat). They've pulled scams everywhere -- they're especially fond of Pittsburgh -- and in L.A. they've just hustled a lightweight crook out of one-fifty large. Too bad the money belonged to The King (Dustin Hoffman), a gregarious, medicated, hyperactive, self-made strip-club owner and underworld figure who wants his money back, but who wants, even more, to scam a childhood friend (Robert Forster), the son of a mob lawyer who's now a successfully crooked corporate tycoon.
The payoff is $5 million, and the plan calls for a woman. So Jake recruits a necessarily beautiful pickpocket (Rachel Weisz) and launches a convoluted scheme with all the usual suspects, and with foreseeable twists designed less to surprise you than to make you feel in on the game.
Someday someone will write a movie about a sting that shows us who these people are, how they learn to do it, and what it feels like to be everyone and no one. The Grifters gave it a shot; so has David Mamet. Confidence is more akin to Pulp Fiction, only without the self-indulgence and brutal machismo, and Foley paces his drama so quickly that you barely have time to think about whether it amounts to much (it doesn't). He keeps his actors solidly in character, especially Hoffman, who hasn't been this much fun to watch in years -- he's Ratso Rizzo, cleaned up and with a decent job -- and Weisz, who plays Lily with a whiff of baby doll, but with intelligence and a pair of pouty lips that hang open invitingly.
I wish I could discern some interesting themes in Confidence, but aside from the envy motif of the downtown King's big scam against his uptown rival, and the fact that we'd all certainly like to steal from the rich so successfully, there's not much here to work with. So go to Confidence to enjoy its craft at a time of year when almost every other movie in town is a hustle. * * *