"A dick with no brain and a brain with no dick." That's how John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton's hapless thieves are described in this black comedic thriller, and it doesn't take you long to suss which is which. "People say there's no such thing as a perfect crime," says Cusack's anti-hero in a mordant opening voiceover, going on to prove exactly that as his "perfect" scheme to rip off his employers lands both him and his colleague in trouble. But while Harold Ramis' film fizzes with acid wit and grisly incident, typified by a hilarious set-piece that sees Cusack and Thornton dispose of a goon in a frozen lake, it shares its protagonists' weakness in not being nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
The set-up looks smart enough, with co-writers Richard Russo and Robert Benton assembling the right ingredients: vampy femme fatale (Connie Nielsen), despicable villain (Randy Quaid) and a moody, twilight milieu. But Ramis, a director more at home with quirky high concept than offbeat parody, never combines them satisfactorily. His movie oscillates between cruel farce, slapstick violence and bleak existentialism. And yet it pulls its punches, letting Cusack's amoral lawyer off the hook simply because he's not as big a bastard as the scumbags he deals with.
Still, the feisty interplay between Cusack and Thornton keeps the laughs coming. The real double-act, however, is between Cusack and Platt, in scene-stealing form as a boozy pal whose bad behaviour compromises his friend's attempts to keep a low profile. "All that's left for men is money and pussy!" he slurs before emptying his guts in Charlie's car. It's here we realise that beneath Ramis' sly noir pastiche lies a thoughtful look at nascent midlife crisis - albeit one full of guns, corpses and topless strippers.
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This con-gone-wrong caper could have been tougher and darker. But the likeable cast and witty screenplay make it easy to warm to.