12/30/2013 04:32 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Popcorn Preview: American Hustle

American Hustle (2013)
Cast includes: Christian Bale (The Fighter), Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games), Louis C.K. (Louie)
Direction: David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook)
Genre: Drama | Crime | Humor (138 minutes)

The look and feel is definitely vintage... the date is April 28, 1978... the place is the Plaza Hotel. A notice appears... "Some of this is actually true." Nothing can begin until Irving has completed his "elaborate" comb-over... the filler hair, the strands brought over from the side, the adjustments, and finally, the hairspray. "You wanna fuck it up, it's up to you!" "Don't you fucking touch me!" But Richie knows how to get under Irving's skin... an assault on the comb-over. This sting isn't off to a good start. After fixing the hair again and checking the briefcase full of money, Irving, Richie and Sydney are ready. The intended target is Mayor Carmine Polito, and they're getting the whole thing on video... the introductions, the small talk, getting down to business and... wait a minute... what's Richie doing now? He slides the money over so Carmine can take it. But Irving specifically told Richie not to be so eager. Carmine smells a rat, and the meeting's over. "Now I have to go mop up your mess," says Irving.

In a flashback, Irving tells us about his assorted businesses... glass repair, fake art, dry cleaning... and how he met Sydney. It was a party on Long Island. Their shared love of Duke Ellington brought them together. She is bold in a way he's never known before. She has style but no money. Irving invites her to peruse the back room of his dry cleaning store. "People leave stuff... you want it, it's yours... our little secret." He feels like he can tell her anything, including some of the scams he's got going. But that's a step too far... Sydney walks out, and Irving is crushed... until Sydney walks back in as Lady Edith Greensley, complete with a British upper-crust attitude and accent. Together, they turn Irving's little scam into high art. We don't meet Irving's wife, Rosalyn, until the day she nearly sets the house on fire with the "fucking sunlamp." Irving wants a divorce, but she'll get custody of her son... who is now Irving's son, too, because Irving adopted him and doesn't want to loose him to his nutcase of a wife. Irving's home life may be a train wreck, but at least business is good... until it isn't. They thought they were putting one over on Richie, but he put one over on them... and now their only option is to work with the FBI to ensnare some really big fish.

That brings us back to Mayor Carmine Polito, who wants to bring jobs back to his area by rebuilding Atlantic City. It's true that Carmine's approach isn't entirely on the up-n-up, but the people of Camden love him, and we come to empathize with the Mayor and his mission. That's just one of the sticky wickets Irving has to negotiate. By this time, Sydney may have become another sticky wicket... not sure about that... but Rosalyn can turn any situation into a sticky wicket, and somehow she's become part of the sting. The plot is inspired by an actual FBI operation called "Abscam." It got the name because there was a fake Arab sheikh brought in as part of the sting, which eventually brought down a US senator, 6 members of the House of Representatives and others. You'd probably have to see the movie twice to understand all the tricky details of the scam... not that they have much relationship to the real story... but it isn't necessary to catch every detail to enjoy it. The script and production are perfect, and the acting is exceptional. Jennifer Lawrence, for example as Rosalyn, turns her relatively small role into an Academy Awards contender. But in the end, it all comes back to Irving and Sydney... and their Golden Rule... "The crazy thing about people is, the more you say no, the more they want in on it."

4 popped kernels (Scale: 0-4)
In order to avoid prison, a couple of scam artists have to work for the FBI to put a scam over on corrupt politicians

Popcorn Profile
Rated: R (Language, Crime)
Audience: Young Adults & Grown-ups
Gender Style: Slightly Masculine
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release
Mood: Upbeat
Tempo: Zips Right Along
Visual Style: Nicely Varnished Realism
Nutshell: FBI sting
Language: Irreverent
Social Significance: Pure Entertainment

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