*½/**** Image A Sound A-
starring John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Peter Mullan
screenplay by Gregory Jacobs & Sam Lowry, based on the screenplay for Nueve reinas by Fabián Bielinsky
directed by Gregory Jacobs
by Walter Chaw As an assistant director, Gregory Jacobs has been involved in so many good projects (his resume includes Miller's Crossing, Hal Hartley's Amateur, and Steven Soderbergh's Solaris) that his directorial debut raises expectations. Too many, perhaps, as Criminal, an adaptation of Argentine director Fabián Bielinsky's Nine Queens, from just a couple of years ago, barely qualifies as something as cut-rate and devalued as one of those cookie-cutter, self-conscious, tedious David Mamet capers. It's badly miscast, with John C. Reilly in the lead as a well-travelled huckster on the prowl for that one Big Score that looms like El Dorado for the larcenous breed. (Reilly is fine as a cuckolded husband, nonplussed by a woman he doesn't deserve--not so fine as someone who lives by trip-hammer reflex and quicksilver wit.) And in place of the oil-derrick rhythms of a caper flick, there's something suspiciously like manners and formalism in Criminal--it's a jazz improvisation performed by robots and metered by a drum machine. All the elements are there, but there's no soul to it.