Matchstick Men

dir. Scott

Opens Fri Sept 12

Various Theaters

In truth, Nicholas Cage could have been airlifted from any number of his films and dropped into the middle of Matchstick Men, a film about a nervous con man, his odd-couple partner (played by Sam Rockwell) and his estranged 14-year-old daughter. Rambling to his shrink or just puttering anxiously around his impeccably clean house, Cage picks up the wild goose chase of neurosis right where Adaptation left off. With his ticks, abrupt laughs and adorable anxiety, this has become Cage's trademark character, which is to say that overuse has worn down its uniqueness and sharp edges.

Based on the cheeky novel by Eric Garcia, Roy (Cage) is a conflicted con artist (not unlike the nerve-wracked screenwriter he played in Adaptation) who has morals and truly believes he's advancing the ethical code in his field. He doesn't take money from his victims, he assures his shrink, they give it to him.

The movie begins with Roy compulsively cleaning his house, as his flamboyant protégé tries to lure him out into the sunlight--and into another big score. The plot lurches forward when his sweet (but not so innocent), estranged teenage daughter (Alison Lohman) wanders into the frame. Played with brooding, love-starved precision, she wiggles her way into Roy's compulsively clean home--and his professional life.

Yes, the con the trio is cooking up provides an overarching plot tension, but the film's deep-down emotional conflict is (supposedly) derived from the unorthodox father-daughter relationship. Roy wants to share his life with his newfound daughter, but at the same time recognizes that teaching her scams might actually go against the grain of good parenting.

Like an after-school special, this central conflict is endearing and slightly tedious. Ultimately, a somewhat clever plot twist at the end recasts the entire story, but it takes too long to reach, unravels too quickly and along the way, the scenery is far too familiar.