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CATCH ME IF YOU CAN

2002, dir. Steven Spielberg
141 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen.

Review by Noel Wood

It's a good thing that I sometimes compromise on my beliefs.

Basically, without getting into it much, I kinda have a thing where I'm supposed to be protesting the films of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Of course, that didn't stop me from seeing Spielberg's last four features theatrically, but I'm really not supposed to. This one was a double whammy, seeing as to how it is not only a Spielberg-directed film, but features Tom Hanks. But I saw it, only a day after its initial release. And again, I'm glad I sometimes don't stick to my guns on silly little film protests. Oh yeah, I'm also not a huge fan of the actor who has been referred to on this site as Leonardo Difuckingcrappio, but I still saw this movie despite that as well.

    

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN isn't a perfect film. It isn't a brilliant, thought-provoking masterpiece. But it is exactly what it was intended to be: A good movie. Well, for the most part. It coulda been a better movie, but for what it was, it was pretty durn entertaining.

The film is based on a true story, rooted in the autobiography of Frank Abagnale, Jr. Abagnale was a con artist who in the 1960's managed to pass himself off as a commercial Airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, before his eventual arrest. All the while, he was fabricating bogus checks, and reaping the benefits of several millions of dollars. As we've said time and time again on this site, "Based on a true story" means nothing to us as far as enjoyment factor. But in this case, the film absolutely has to be a true story, because it just is too far-fetched not to be one. Really. The fact that Frank gets away with what he does seems so downright preposterous that if it were written as fiction, people would pass it off as not believeable enough. As Alanis Morrissette might say, "Isn't it Ironic, don't you think"?

    

Basically, Frank is this seemingly normal kid who loves his parents to death. His father, played by Christopher Walken in one of his best portayals of Christopher Walken to date, is a quite the schmoozer. He's in trouble for tax evasion, and tries to schmaltz his way into loans, pulling a trick or two out of his sleeve to get what he wants. He seems to be a man with a good heart, even though he might not be the most honest of fellows, except for when it comes to his loved ones. His mother, whom Frank Sr. brought back stateside after his stint in Europe during WWII, begins to distance herself from the family, eventually being caught in an affair by her son and filing for divorce. We first get a preview of Frank Jr's penchant for dishonesty when he starts at a new school, and in response to being bullied, masquerades as a substitute French teacher.

After hearing the news of his parents' divorce, Frank becomes a teenage runaway, and after exhausting all the bad checks he has, begins a series of identity fabrications. Meanwhile, he's forging checks using an old typewriter and toy jumbo jets to keep himself in the money. After a run masquerading as a pilot, he enters the Medical profession, where he meets a naive intern whom he asks to marry. Shortly thereafter, he manages to pass the state bar in Louisiana and becomes a lawyer.

    

Of course, all the while he's being chased by FBI detective Carl Hanratty, who remains on his trail for six years. After Hanratty tracks him down on his wedding night, Frank makes the jump to Europe, where he is eventually caught. Don't worry, I'm not really spoiling anything for you, as the film begins after his capture and backtracks from there. Frank manages to avoid capture in some pretty close scrapes, some of which are quite amusing. However, there's a bond between the two derived from the fact that both characters are inherently alone in life.

DiCaprio is fantastic in the role of Frank Abagnale Jr., turning in his best performance yet, and that includes WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, because it doesn't take a genius to play a retard. And Tom Hanks (speaking of guys who got way too much praise for playing a retard), whom I've criticized many times in the past as being overrated, is actually quite watchable here. He appears to have been watching one of his earlier films for inspiration: DRAGNET. However, he's not watching his own performance, but that of Dan Aykroyd as Joe Friday. Hanks' performance only works in the small doses he's in, however. It's a good thing they keep his role down to a supporting size, because any more of him may have been pushing the envelope.

    

The problems come with this film when Spielberg gets all self-important again. Much like the last several films he's directed, Spielberg drags out an ending that feels tacked on. This movie could easily be told in 100 minutes, but is dragged out to 140, giving is a bit of a lagging effect. It's quite a pity, because the pace and upbeat tone would be better suited in a smaller vessel. As a result of the long timeframe, it's easily to become a bit tired of the story. I'm all for long movies, as long as the story's there to necessitate that time. Unfortunately, there really isn't here, and that's this film's biggest flaw.

And again, the strong point of this movie is that for the most part, it's fun and entertaining. Spielberg refrains from trying to pound a message into our heads, and while there are a few scenes that could be omitted, does a pretty good job at pacing it. I'm glad that I decided to break my little pact with myself and actually go and see it, even if the reason I chose it at the last minute was because the line at the theater was too long for me to catch the 3:45 showing of another Dicaprio film, GANGS OF NEW YORK, so I shot for the 4:00 of this film. Not a bad little movie to enjoy over your winter holiday, so I recommend it.

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