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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 09/16/04

The Argentinean crime caper Nine Queens earned good reviews in 2001 when it was released in the U.S. Most successful foreign films get remade by American filmmakers, but few remakes have been put together so quickly. Gregory Jacobs' Criminal is here, already.

John C. Reilly (Chicago, Magnolia) plays the lead role of Richard Gaddis, a mastermind scam artist, and Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Terminal) plays his apprentice. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary, Donnie Darko) plays Richard's sister, who draws him into a dangerous and lucrative new gamble.

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Criminal falls short of the bar set by the original and offers little in the way of surprises for those already familiar with Nine Queens. Still, Jacobs keeps the film moving at a brisk pace, its shell-game narrative providing enough double-dealing plot twists to keep the audience guessing about who's conning whom—even though realizing all the while that they're the ones being taken for the ride." He adds that viewers will face "the dilemma of having to 'root' for criminals."

"The film is a real treat to watch," says Jonathan Rodriguez (Christian Spotlight). "It gets the viewer interested early on, and keeps our interest as the plot unfolds, sometimes in ways we didn't see coming. Once the film is over and the viewer is forced to think back for clues, a relatively convenient plot twist is revealed. Conveniences have a tendency to discredit some films, but because the rest of Criminal is so strong, they are easy to overlook."

Less impressed, Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says that "incongruities—which mount, at the end of the film—make the characters feel one-dimensional. It's a familiar take on the 'honor among thieves' cliché which feels satisfying at first, until you realize that the comeuppance only comes at the price of an even bigger con." She suggests that viewers follow a viewing by discussing "what it means to 'be as wise as serpents but as gentle as doves' when it comes to trusting strangers, how easy it is to be deceived, and the isolation that dishonesty inevitably brings."

Mainstream critics rate it fairly well.