* * * *

(Complex characters

in con movie)

We don’t remember a lot about the 1978 ABSCAM scandal, but the folks who made “American Hustle,” the ultimate con movie, tell us up front that “some of this actually happened.”

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser, hustlers with huge self-image problems who want to reinvent themselves. They get caught in an elaborate financial scheme and are forced to help Richie DiMaso, a conniving FBI agent (Bradley Cooper), bring down a mayor and as many other politicians as possible.

The hustle gets a bit complex at times, but stick with it for its 2¼ hours and you’ll have a lot of fun. Bale, Adams and Cooper all play sleazy characters that you really won’t like, and certainly wouldn’t trust, but they are so fascinating that you can’t take your eyes off them.

Add a mayor (Jeremy Renner) who is probably the most sincere person in the movie and Irving’s ditzy wife (Jennifer Lawrence), who can hold her own against the best of them, and you have one of the greatest cast of characters in any movie this year. You’ve got to pay attention, because there are dozens of twists and turns as the situation keeps changing and characters can’t be trusted to do what they are expected to do.

It all involves the plan to bring casino gambling to Atlantic City at any cost and money is no object. There’s a fake sheik, a mob boss (Robert DiNiro in a great cameo), a love triangle and a hilarious scene with the latest craze: a microwave oven.

In addition to the wild plot and characters, the movie is filled with ’70s nostalgia. The background music fits the scene, especially a hit song by the BeeGees.

Everything seems to revolve around hair. In the opening scene, Irving (Bale) is dealing with his elaborate hairpiece. Later in the movie, Sydney (Adams) makes love with curlers in her hair. And that’s only the half of it. Pay attention to the clothes also.

This movie is chock full of surprises. The 2¼ hours fly by.

Watch for local actor Richard Donnelly, who appears in two short scenes as a U.S. congressman caught up in the scandal. He has a one-line speaking part, which earns him more money.

Rated R, with profanity, sex, and a little violence.


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