Dirty Rotten Scoundrels [1988]

Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) is a crass, loud American. Laurence Jameson (Michael Caine) is a suave, urbane European. Their common ground is that they both are confidence men, and they meet in a train compartment as Benson is scamming his way across Europe, taking advantage of women's generosity. The two are forced into a rivalry, which culminates in a wager to see who can be the first to bilk $50,000 out of American heiress Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly). Their game of one-upmanship is, of course, brought to ridiculous heights as things progress. Written by Paul Henning (the mind behind such TV shows as Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an uneven but funny mix of Martin's physical comedy and Caine's oily charms. Martin's first role as cohort is to assume the persona of Ruprecht, the "special" younger brother intended to scare off potential brides. As Ruprecht, he comes off as a cross between The Andy Griffith Show's Ernest T. Bass and Jerry Lewis; hilarious as it is, it doesn't quite fit with the rest of the film. Once the wager is on, though, Martin slips into his overly earnest mode as an American military man suffering from hysterical paralysis, with Caine as a psychologist who takes on his case. All in all, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (a loose remake of the 1964 film Bedtime Story with David Niven and Marlon Brando) is a droll, intelligent comedy, short on knee slappers but long on comic situations and characterizations. --Jerry Renshaw

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