Catch Me If You Can

My Rating:

What a caper!

Bitable Bytes:
"...Sheer Excitement...!"
"Very pleasurable to watch!"
"Quite delightful!"

What to do while watching:
If you have the greatest puppy in the whole wide world, you can snuggle with her while you watch. But wait! Since only I have the greatest puppy in the whole wide world, I guess you, dear reader, are out of luck; however, you can cuddle some other, second-tier dog if you'd like

What to eat while watching:
Roasted peanuts.

Bella Marzipan is the cutest dog in the entire universe. Amazing that she should live at my house, eat from my hand, and pee-pee involuntarily on my floor out of sheer excitement every time I come home from work (with a side-trip to the video store). She's a Boston Terrier bitch, three months old, and the vortex of cuteness in much the way that Sedona, Arizona is the vortex of New Ageism. She'd much rather cuddle in bed and watch a movie with the Mrs. and I than stay in her little laundry-room pen; and she lets us know by whining incessantly until we scoop up her seven pounds of love, tolerate five minutes of face licking, and settle in with the remote.

This week's feature, Catch Me If You Can, was good, and certainly not harmed by Bella's snoring and occasional breaking of wind. (And cuter breaking of wind cannot be found anywhere in the known lands of earth.) Based (no telling how loosely) on a true story, Catch Me elucidates the capers of one Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Abagnale is inspired by his father, played here by Christopher Walken, to be something of a player. Daddy Frank is smooth with the ladies, but has also tried tax evasion to the detriment of his business, his marriage, and eventually his health. It is interesting for a little while to see Walken as the Willy Loman figure and not the creepy gangster. You also get to see him dance ever so briefly, which is one of his true, but hidden, strengths. That Walken's whining is kept to a handful of scenes keeps it fresher than it would be if he were the star--or an exceedingly cute adolescent canine.

Instead, it's all about DiCaprio. When his folks split up, young Frank runs away to make his own fortune. He quickly learns that being a high-school runaway isn't any way to survive in the big world, so he begins to take to the grift, showing particular aptitude at forging checks. To back up his credibility--how many high school kids carry thousand dollar checks?--he also starts taking to role-playing.

Noting the respect and admiration garnered by airline pilots--this film is set in the early days of commercial flying--Frank manages to purloin a pilot's uniform and enough Pan Am paraphernalia to do a successful imitation of a rookie fly boy. Not only does he manage to rack up incredible material wealth on his phony checks, but he also racks up a great many air miles flying in the cockpit on the extra seat.

Frank's rise to power is great to watch. The character takes to the fake authority and real luxury so much that it eventually begins to feed itself. Soon, he is impersonating doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. Well, not Indian chiefs.

DiCaprio does a credible job of embodying the thrill of the faker's life. He is enjoyable to watch and does nothing jarring with the script he is given. His skill as an actor jibes with the fact that director Steven Spielberg's attention is focussed squarely on action, not character development. Character and plot details may show some fraying under scrutiny, but the pace is fast enough and the action fun enough to keep the viewer sufficiently suspended (especially when Bella kicks her little legs in sleep during a moment of loud soundtrack).

Before long, Abagnale's shenanigans catch the attention of FBI fraud investigator Carl Handratty, played by Tom Hanks. Remember when Hanks starred opposite Dan Ackroyd in Dragnet? Well, now Hanks has the uptight, straight-laced demeanor that Joe Friday had. He's a nerd, a nerkle, and a seersucker, too; but he is the best at what he does, and so it isn't long before he manages to put the chase on Abagnale, despite early feints, fake-outs, and false scents.

A strange relationship builds between Handratty and Abagnale. At first, I found it contrived, but Spielberg supports it simply: Abagnale and Handratty are both lonely people with little else in life besides their work. For all Abagnale's wild living, he has no deep connections with the women he seduces, and his family is all but lost to him. The simple explanation actually does the trick and opens the door for an unexpected conclusion to this chapter of Abagnale's life, one that actually coincides with the true story: he himself goes to work for the FBI as an expert on counterfeiting and fraud.

Don't consider it given away: there are many things I haven't told you. But more importantly, it's the caper, not the twist, which is at the center of this film; and it's very pleasurable to watch. The chase isn't executed in speeding cars or exploding hovercraft. It's a chase of wits. That makes its sound quite dull. But trust me, it's not. Abagnale, as the underdog dropout, is not violent or psychopathic, and so we, the viewers, root for him and like to see him successfully hoodwink the masses. This borders on a feel-good movie. Quite delightful, overall.

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For your collection: Catch Me If You Can (DVD), Catch Me If You Can (VHS)

Gooden's Listening To: Knitting on the Roof A collection of songs from Fiddler on the Roof, done by bands who have appeared at New York's The Knitting Factory including Negativland, Jill Soluble, Dr. Eugene Chadbourne, The Replacements. I quite like the different takes on these standards

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