*** and 1/2 out of ****
The theatrical trailer for American Hustle makes it look like a slick mobster movie, the kind Martin Scorsese can do in his sleep. In actuality, David O. Russell's film is a disarming comedy that plays more or less like a spoof of Scorsese's mobster films Goodfellas and Casino.
In this wildly offbeat story set in the late 1970s, Christian Bale, sporting a gut and a comb over, plays con man Irving Rosenfeld. Amy Adams, always about to fall out of her dress, is his British partner in crime, Sydney Prosser. Eventually, they get busted by the feds and are recruited by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to take down big fish like politicians and gangsters for corruption. Their play is the Abscam (short for "Arab scam") operation, which is basically entrapment.
The offbeat performances don't end with Bale, Adams and Cooper. Jennifer Lawrence is very funny as Rosenfeld's neglected wife, and Louis C.K. has some choice scenes as DiMaso's superior. Jeremy Renner, as a New Jersey mayor, and Elisabeth Röhm, as his wife, are also quite good. There is a cameo here by Robert De Niro as a mob boss, and it's great, reminding us that De Niro is still one of the best, even if he has been slumming in unworthy roles in recent years.
Because of its quirky nature, American Hustle threw me off at first, but once you get used to its purposely over the top style, you'll find it a refreshing and funny cinematic experience.