Shooting Fish

May 20, 1998 at 12:00 am

Twentysomething con artists Dylan (Dan Futterman) and Jez (Stuart Townsend) are opposites who perfectly complement each other: The American, Dylan, possesses the go-getter gregariousness of a born huckster, while the soft- spoken Brit, Jez, is an inspired techno-whiz who lacks social skills. In this comedy set in London, they make pulling scams as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Early in the film, the pair have hired Georgie (Kate Beckinsale) to assist in an elaborate con. They've set up demonstrations for businesspeople of a revolutionary voice-recognition computer, which, of course, only works because Jez and Georgie are feeding it information. But Dylan sells as if his life depended on it, enthusiastically getting these stuffy, corporate types to not only fork over a deposit check but also recite "I'm a Little Teapot" to the phony computer so that it will recognize their voices (the nursery rhyme has "all the vowel sounds," he claims guilelessly).

Directed by Stefan Schwartz and co-written by Schwartz and Richard Holmes (who make up the comedy duo the Gruber Brothers), Shooting Fish is a buoyant caper film with charmingly roguish protagonists, inventive scams and a rambunctious sense of humor. And, particularly for this post-everything era, it's remarkably irony-free.

Despite their bohemian dwell-ing in a converted gasometer (a reservoir for storing gas) decorated with colorful pop culture flotsam and jetsam, including a Burt Bacharach shrine-jukebox, Dylan and Jez desire something much more bourgeois. These two orphans are actually saving their ill-gotten gains for a vision of stability and comfort: a "stately home" of their own. Georgie, who rejects the on-the-make Dylan but warms up to Jez, has a few secrets of her own, including a dastardly upper-crust fiancé and a pressing need for major funds.

Shooting Fish bounces from one con game to another. Some, like the exquisite revenge concocted for the lout who breaks into their car (which incorporates attic insulation and an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical), play out like an elaborate clockwork contraption.

Too clever by far to effectively exist in the workaday world, Dylan and Jez never become smug or self-righteous. They're always on the make, yes, but they're always thinking too, using skewed but irrefutable logic to make things go their way. As the con men's plans take on a new urgency, prompted by a particularly British twist of fate (the Queen doesn't like her portrait on the 50-pound note, these con men's currency of choice), Schwartz and Holmes keep raising the stakes straight through to the satisfyingly old-fashioned payoff.

Not deep by any means, Shooting Fish is a kind of carnival ride: colorful, breezy and just plain fun.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].