Nicolas Cage is one talented actor. Even when playing a character fraught with ticks, odd idiosyncrasies and a moral barometer that points the wrong way, Cage manages to make him likable.

In "Matchstick Men" Cage plays Roy, a con artist who takes his "art" very seriously. His meticulous nature, whether he's conning someone through a telemarketing scam or in person, comes through as he takes on a different voice and persona for each con. However, we soon begin to suspect that Roy is paying a high price for all his deception - it's taxing his soul.

His obsessive-compulsive behavior clues us in to his unhappiness. He opens and closes a door three times before going through it, has a glaring eye twitch and a professional arsenal of cleaning supplies with which to tackle any spec of dirt that dares to rear its grimy head.

The man is in serious need of help, and in Hollywood, help often comes from unexpected places ... such as in the form of a long-lost 14-year-old daughter named Angela.

Angela is played by Alison Lohman, and though I thought she was a bit annoying in the trailers and in the previews, she practically steals the show with her energetic, youthful enthusiasm. In real life Lohman is 24, but with the help of a mouth piece that makes her face rounder, pigtails and some genuine acting ability, she embodies 14 with the ease of a teenager surfing the Web.

Roy is fascinated with his daughter's quirks, her messiness and her eating habits. But more importantly, caring for her makes him forget about his own obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Roy's partner in crime is Frank, played by the chameleon-like Sam Rockwell. Frank is, easy-going and nonchalant - the opposite of Roy's uptight, clean freak. Frank's unpredictability is fun to watch, and Rockwell seems to savor the role.

But of course, the star of the show is Cage as the troubled Roy and director Ridley Scott acknowledges this. Scott is generally known for making more action-oriented films ("Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator" and "G.I. Jane" to name a few) rather than quirky, relationship-based movies. But he shows a skill for handling the humor and poignancy involved in the father/daughter relationship and capitalizes on the chemistry between Angela and Roy.

My only complaint about the film is that it seems to suggest that obsessive-compulsive behavior is all in one's head. Roy is convinced he needs to be on medication. When his psychiatrist slips him over-the-counter premenopausal medication in place of a prescription medication, it drives home the point that Roy's disorder is only imagined. In real life such disorders should not be taken so lightly.

But then, this is Hollywood. Cage earns his money in "Matchstick Men" with a memorable performance and a couple of costars who, like con artists, back him up and aren't content to let him take all the credit.

"Matchstick Men"Rated - PG-13

for thematic elements, violence, some sexual content and language

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alison Lohman and Sam Rockwell

Director: Ridley Scott

Length: 116 minutes

Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas and Cannes Cinema in Seaside

Short take: Cage gives an inspired performance as Roy, a con artist with major personal problems. Costars Lohman, as Roy's 14-year-old daughter, Angela and Rockwell, as Frank, his partner in crime, have fun with their roles. Director Scott takes care with the father/daughter relationship and juggles all the film's elements in such a way to create quite an enjoyable movie.

Rating: 3 stars

Rating system:

4 stars: Absolutely the best

3 stars: Good, solid entertainment

2 stars: Wait for the video

1 star: Don't waste your time

Movie Trivia: In the film Roy suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia. From what affliction does actor Nicolas Cage suffer from in real life?

Movie Trivia answer: Vertigo


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