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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/6/02

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
1988 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/C+/C+

Specs and Features
110 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual layered (layer switch at 56:16), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Frank Oz, behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer, teaser trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, Closed Captioned

"To be with another woman, that is French. To be caught, that is American."

Comedies no longer seem funny, because they substitute humor for anything that'll make you cringe. Comedians and directors are constantly trying to push the limits of good taste, to make the audience uncomfortable. What these "artists" need to do is go back and see an actually funny movie. It's easy to write crap, it's harder to write something intelligent. Yet somehow in the late eighties, Dale Launer and Stanley Shapiro were about to write one of the most intelligent, yet hilariously funnies comedies that I've ever seen. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The plot is simple. Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) is a small-time con man, using his standard tricks ("I need money for my grandma's operation") to travel through Europe. Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) has conned his way into high society and is living comfortably. The cross paths on a train and Lawrence wants to get Freddy out of his territory, because although Freddy is very small time, Lawrence notes, "A poacher who shoots at rabbits might scare big game away."

However, there is no sign of Freddy leaving, so Lawrence takes it upon himself to educate Freddy in the finer art of conning. But still no dice, so Lawrence makes a desperate bet. They pick an American soap heiress (Glenne Headly) out of a crowd and bet that the first one to get $50,000 from her can stay; the other has to leave and never come back. And thus, the story is set.

Everything about this film suggests that it should have been made in the 50's. (And this is actually a remake of Bedtime Story with David Niven and Marlon Brando.) From the acting style, to its broad humor, to classy cinematography and art direction, this film is well crafted. But it may work best, thanks to the casting of Steve Martin and Michael Caine. We're allowed to get away from the main plot for extended periods of time, because we just want to see both of them one-up each other. It's because they both have such great chemistry together, they work so well. Although the film does drag a little long at times, it's none-the-less enjoyable, and the ending is one of the better endings I've seen. (Though it is a little obvious.)

The video transfer isn't anything to really write home about. The picture has a little too much edge enhancement and some film grain is present through the whole film. The colors also seem a little soft, but that could be the cinematography, and not the disc's fault. The 5.1 audio mix isn't that great either. Surrounds are only used occasionally on music cues and some general crowd noise, but this isn't the kind of movie that lends itself to surround sound. However, bass output was very nice.

There's nothing too special in the extras here. First, there's a scene-specific audio commentary with Frank Oz. The comments are a little dry, but interesting if you're a fan of the film. Oz points out how various shots were gotten, a script doctoring with Steve Martin, and other little tidbits. He never really pauses through the track, although he's almost silent through the first "Ruprecht" scene, and the only thing other than silence is laughter. In fact, Oz laughs along with a lot of the jokes, and you can really tell that this is one of his favorites.

There's a behind-the-scenes featurette, produced back in 1988, which is very brief and really just goes over some of Frank Oz's comments. Also included are the theatrical trailer and the teaser trailer. Both are presented in full-frame, and look horrible. But, the teaser one of the better teasers I've seen that perfectly captures the spirit of the film.

If you haven't seen Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, why not? This is one of the sharpest, not to say, funniest comedies of the last fifteen years.

Graham Greenlee
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