Catch Me If You Can
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Jennifer Garner, and Nathalie Baye
Director:

Stephen Spielberg

Writer:

Jeff Nathanson

Distributor: Dreamworks Pictures * 140 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief language
  (USA 2002)

It's not your birthday, but presents are arriving anyway...it's the holiday movie season. And the enticing, shiny bauble underneath the dayglo plastic wrapping has a tag on it that says it's from the planet's favorite film director...Stephen Spielberg! (And you didn't think he cared.)

No, no -- don't shy away; this isn't one of Stephen's baffling, beautiful brainteasers like Minority Report or A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. It seems, after the last few years of giving presents that were perhaps a bit too cerebral to be widely appreciated, Mr. Spielberg has sagely realized that bubblegum fun might be the best way to go for his next outing. Thus, we have CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, a frothy, quicksilver entertainment so desperate to be liked that you can almost feel the good vibes emanating from the screen. And truthfully, it's quite likeable, a real-life caper tale told with such gentility and wit that even the most curmudgeonly viewer will find its charms hard to resist.

Those charms aren't Spielberg's alone; CATCH ME IF YOU CAN certainly has the deck stacked in its favor. It has not one, but two bona-fide movie stars, Oscar magnet Tom Hanks and worldwide heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio. It's got the best behind-the-camera team working in Hollywood today, including the dazzling camera work of Janusz Kaminski and the retro-fabulous costumes of Mary Zophres. And it's got one humdinger of a tale to tell: that of Frank Abagnale, Jr., the young con man whose extraordinary real-life impersonations -- of doctors, district attorneys, and airline pilots -- netted him more than $4 million dollars through fraudulent checks and a place as the youngest man ever (at 17) on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

From the spunky opening strains of John Williams' Mancini-inspired score and the hand-drawn opening titles, you can tell that everyone associated with the making of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is having fun. The energy is infectious; scenes and dialogue crackle with fizzy energy, colors and clothes playfully tweak 60's-era excesses...even Christopher Walken cracks a smile. As the full scope of Frank's crimes reveal themselves (in that kindhearted, jovial way that makes criminals so endearingly charming), one begins to marvel at their sheer audacity; if you didn't know it was based on a true story, as an audience member next to me remarked, you'd think the plot preposterous.

Such chutzpah requires an actor both light on his feet and capable of commiting completely to the telling of pretty white lies. DiCaprio, as Frank, is more than up to the task. Geekily suave and unassumingly handsome, DiCaprio effortlessly transforms Frank from timid to brazen to self-assured. As his work in A Boy's Life and What's Eating Gilbert Grape showed, he's also adept at playing emotional family dynamics. In his co-dependent, heartbreaking relationship with his father (Walken), he manages a quiet volatility; his divorced mother (Nathalie Baye) produces in him an uncomprehending desperation which is marvelous to behold.

Taking the supporting role of Carl Handratty, the FBI agent who tracks Frank's spree across the globe, Tom Hanks grounds CATCH ME IF YOU CAN firmly, the steady hand of an old pro. His warm persona makes for interesting interplays in the character of Handratty, a lonely divorcee whose opinion of Frank goes from rage to grudging respect to admiration. He's also not afraid to play the buffoon, a state that few of Hollywood's A-List stars will allow. Here, it works swimmingly.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is not a classic, in any sense of the word. It lacks depth, primarily, and one has a sneaking suspicion that the real story might be significantly less zany than Mr. Spielberg's version would have one believe. But CATCH ME IF YOU CAN isn't shooting for eternal greatness. It just wants to be a good time at the movies. A tale well told is not something to scoff at, especially in these creatively-challenged days in Hollywood. There's no rule that anyone -- including Spielberg -- has to hit it out of the park each time. Sometimes being good can be truly great; if the popcorn is fresh and the soda is extra-large, this bubblegum fun is better than an entire box of Raisinettes.

-- Gabriel Shanks


Review text copyright © 2002 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.

 

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