Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 10, 2018)
Pulp Fiction veterans Uma Thurman and Tim Roth reunite for 2018’s crime comedy The Con Is On. Thieves Peter (Roth) and Harriet (Thurman) owe a massive amount of money to gangster Irina (Maggie Q).
To pay off this debt, Peter and Harriet plan a jewel heist and they travel to Los Angeles to achieve this feat. We follow their attempts to succeed along with connected shenanigans.
When I referred to Thurman and Roth’s connection to Pulp Fiction, that might’ve been a bit misleading since their two characters never interacted. Both appeared in wholly separate slices of the film and didn’t meet.
Rather than reflect the world of Tarantino, Con seems more connected to the style of Guy Ritchie and various black comedies. It takes on a dark tone that tries to offer some style despite its inherent cynicism.
We get the movie’s worldview from the very start. In the first dialogue we hear, an elderly nun asks Harriet “what the fuck are you doing here?”
Intended to shock and point toward the gritty, irreverent tone the movie will follow, this opening scene simply feels gratuitous. The project doesn’t improve from there, as it tosses out depravity in huge dollops that exist less to tell a story and more in a misguided attempt to be “edgy”.
This fails, and it fails miserably. Even with an incredibly simple plot, Con can’t stay on target, as it prefers to subject us to endless unpleasantness among its characters.
Its unlikable characters, I should say, as not a single member of this crew gives us a personality about whom we care. Some movies can get away with a roster of jerks, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off that trick, and co-writer/director James Oakley doesn’t show 1/10th the talent required.
Essentially Con consists of one crude interaction among these awful people after another. We get drunks, gamblers, criminals and perverts, all of whom are supposed to entertain us due to their wildness, I guess.
They don’t, as instead they simply make us hate them – and the filmmakers for forcing us to endure their nastiness. Again, this doesn’t become “edgy” or daring – it’s just witless cruelty and unpleasantness for its own sake.
Con trashes a pretty good cast. In addition to Thurman, Roth and Q, we find folks like Alice Eve, Parker Posey, Stephen Fry, Sofia Vergara and Crispin Glover, none of whom manage to elevate their characters. Perhaps this movie would’ve flopped even worse with less skilled performers, but at least that would’ve felt less like a waste of talent.
Oakley appeared to understand he made a stinker, as he goes by the credit “James Haslam” here. Smart choice, James – you created a truly awful film and any attempt to distance yourself from it makes total sense.