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Catch Me If You Can

Leonardo DiCaprio is back in the limelight. After struggling for years with how to follow up the Titanic success, he pops into theaters this Christmas as the star of Martin Scorsese's monster New York epic and Steven Spielberg's breezy '60s flick. You might say that Catch Me If You an marks a return for Spielberg as well. After the darkness of movies like Minority Report, A.I., and Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg is back with straight, good-time entertainment. And let's be honest--few do that better. Helping Leo and Steven is Midas-touch man Tom Hanks. How could this go wrong?

For the first 90 minutes, nothing goes wrong. Starting with the beautiful opening credits, which are reminiscent of those stylish '60s thrillers, the
movie sets the stage for a smashing good time. We're introduced to Frank Abagnale, Jr. (DiCaprio), who we learn was arrested in 1969 for
successfully impersonating a pilot, a pediatrician, and a lawyer all before the age of 21. Along the way, he also forged over $4 million in phony
checks.

Then we skip back to 1964 where it all started. Frank is a doting teenager living in an idyllic Long Island town. His father (played with great
panache by Christopher Walken) is a legend in his son's eyes, even after he's forced to sell his car and house to pay off the I.R.S. Frank's mother  (Nathalie Baye), who's not used to living in meager surroundings, files for divorce, and suddenly Frank's life goes up in smoke. He's not ready to give up, though, and he convinces himself that, if he can be a success and make some money, he can get his parents back together. How will a 16-year-old do that? By running away and impersonating a Pan Am pilot, of course.

The appeal of Catch Me If You Can is that DiCaprio and Spielberg make that seem entirely plausible. It helps that this is inspired by a true story;
but even if it wasn't, I think the audience would still play along. The charm Leo displayed in Titanic is on full wattage, and when he flashes that
smile at a pretty bank teller, you just know she's going to cash that forged check. And when Abagnale asks her to show him how the check routing numbers work, well why shouldn't she tell him?

Of course, every hero needs an antagonist, and in this case it's the straight-laced FBI man Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). Hanratty sniffs out the
fraud pretty early, but he doesn't count on a young kid being responsible. When the two meet up early in the movie, Frank pulls the wool over Carl's eyes so badly it's fantastic to behold. After that, the chase is on. Hanratty isn't about to give up, and Abagnale doesn't have any choice but
to keep on running.

Spielberg keeps the movie clicking along, the production design is beautifully slick, and the acting is, as you might expect, top notch. Special kudos go out to Walken and Hanks. Walken is fantastic every time he's on screen, and his scenes with DiCaprio are fantastic portrayals of
how a father and son interact. Hanks deserves special mention for not trying to soften his character's hard edge, and a scene near the movie's
end has a reaction shot that might be my favorite of the year. I'm not sure if the Cult of Leo will reach titanic proportions, but he stands a good
chance of setting some hearts aflutter.

With all that Catch Me If You Can has going for it, the movie still lags in the second act. And that is a direct result of Spielberg's inane decision
to give the ending away. It's as if someone had told us early on in Casablanca that Ingrid Bergman was going to get safely out of town but not
with Humphrey Bogart. Once you know how the pieces fall, all that tension and interest is drained out of the film, and you spend most of your time just waiting for the inevitable.

This trend of starting at the conclusion of the story and then flipping back to the beginning has been growing in recent years, and I can't for the
life of me figure out why. Why give the entire game away? Does the movie gain anything by that? Rarely, and only if the movie has larger concerns. But Catch Me If You Can isn't some deep treatise on the nature of the human condition. It's a slick little chase movie, with two huge stars having a grand time. And so would we in the audience if we could play along; but instead we reach the ninety-minute mark, and we already know what the next thirty minutes hold. No matter how good looking you think Leo is, there's just not enough to keep your interest. The denouement is somewhat compelling (father figures play a large role--no surprise there), but I was still missing the energy of that first hour. Despite Spielberg's return to his earlier style, this one feels like his most recent fare--entertaining but flawed.   

by J. Robert Parks 12/21/2002


 
 

 

 
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