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Along for the ride

Buckle up for the satisfying, if not sterling, 'Confidence'

It's almost impossible to totally botch a caper movie.

There's always something to hook the audience on some level: Without at least a decent gimmick, the film wouldn't even get made. And there's the basic roller-coasting pleasure of being taken for a ride. It's fun if you keep up with or anticipate the plot turns, but still fun if you get fooled.

'Confidence' is a caper movie that pleases without being anywhere near the best at anything it does. Set in Los Angeles, it begins as Jake Vig (Edward Burns) and his crew successfully complete their latest con. But they've barely had time to count the take before their victim and one of their own turn up dead.

It seems their mark was the accountant for a local crime boss known as the King (Dustin Hoffman), who finds being ripped off especially embarrassing when the ripper-offer gets ripped off, too. It's not good business.

Jake offers to repay the King with an elaborate high-finance scam that promises a payoff in millions from the coffers of a mobbed-up corporate banker (Robert Forster).

The job, of course, is incredibly and teasingly complex. Director James Foley and writer Doug Jung set the hook with an engaging bit of show-and-tell. As Jake describes the various stages of the plan, they play out before us in a breezy montage. Then, with this knowledge (though it's impossible to really know how much we know), we can proceed to watch what happens when the inevitable unforeseeable occurs.

No fair telling more Ñ except to say there's plenty more. That is one of the charms of this kind of movie. This is good, because the handsome, smooth Burns is like Tom Cruise without the charm. There's something of a car salesman about him, which may seem right for a con man but is a little wrong for fully engaging an audience.

The same is true of Rachel Weisz (best known for the two recent 'Mummy' epics) as a hottie pickpocket enlisted by Jake. She's attractive and capable but has yet to strike the kind of sparks that make a star or warm up a crowd.

On the other hand, Hoffman is all mannered twitchiness as the sleazoid miniboss. You haven't seen a piece of gum worked like this since Rod Steiger's furious Oscar-winning mastications from 'In the Heat of the Night.' Much the same kind of self-consciousness tells on Garcia's scuzzball lawman, leaving it to the expert supporting players Ñ including Luis Guzman and Donal Logue as crooked cops, Paul Giamatti as one of Jake's crew and Forster (still grievously underappreciated by Hollywood) Ñ to play us the right way.

Director Foley, hyped on his own stylistics (editing-wise, this movie has more wipes than a windshield in a rainstorm), seems determined to remind us he also directed 'Glengarry Glen Ross.' And Jung's dialogue is so distractingly peppered with a particular expletive that the film could be rated 'F.' It's like Mamet Spam.

But Juan Ruiz-Anchia's neon-bright cinematography makes crackling eye candy, and we can take all that self-aware snap and swagger when the stakes run closer to the play money of 'The Sting' than the blood money of 'The Grifters.' Played here, the con is indeed a game.