"So, I'm dead," intones grifter Edward Burns in the opening line of James Foley's caper film Confidence, speaking with a bored, self-conscious deadpan that seems to ask, "What else did you expect?" A few decades after Sunset Boulevard, narration from beyond the grave has long been passé, and the filmmakers want everyone to know they're aware of it. But that doesn't stop them from going through the motions anyway, ticking off elements from a genre checklist (fatalist voiceover, a femme fatale, a Mexican stand-off, a suitcase full of loot, and cops on the take, all within the first five minutes!) and filtering them through a lot of post-Tarantino attitudinizing. Like many other hollow neo-noirs before it, Confidence knows all the notes, but forgets the music: The sober social and emotional undercurrents that gave rise to the genre after WWII are forgotten, flippantly discarded in favor of smug dialogue and double-reverse twists. A more compelling hero might have helped, but the dull and affectless Burns seems all too content to allow the quirkier elements to orbit around his unflappable cool. After Burns and his seasoned crew bilk a gullible accountant out of an easy $150,000, they bump heads with his powerful boss Dustin Hoffman, a gum-smacking underworld kingpin who runs a crime syndicate from the back room of an L.A. strip club. Rather than skip town, Burns strides boldly into the lion's den and convinces Hoffman to bankroll a $5 million embezzlement scheme that will pay off Burns' debts with interest. To pull off his elaborate plan to bilk loan money for a corporation that doesn't exist, Burns recruits a few untrustworthy elements, including a pair of crooked cops (Luis Guzmán and Donal Logue) and sultry pickpocket Rachel Weisz, a high-priced and seductive shill with dubious motives. Meanwhile, he tries to elude special agent Andy Garcia, a Wile E. Coyote character who has doggedly pursued him from city to city. Relayed in flashback à la Double Indemnity, Confidence goes through the paces with diverting panache, but once it becomes apparent that the paces are all that Foley and screenwriter Doug Jung have in mind, the plot contortions grow tiresome. Foley, whose best work to date was a peerless adaptation of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, grifts a few scenes from Mamet's debut feature House Of Games, one of the great movies about con artists. Throughout that film, Mamet emphasizes that cons are based on trust, relying on the mark's false assumption that he or she is in good hands. By that logic, movies intent on conning the audience need to forge the same kind of connection, an assurance that they'll be guided smoothly through the story. But Confidence doesn't provide anything substantial to latch on to: Its twists and turns aren't founded on the trust needed to pull them off.
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