Oscar Watch

“American Hustle?’ More like ‘Unidimensional New Jersey Low-lifes Hustle.’” Set in 1978, David O. Russell’s film about con-people, politicians and the FBI takes viewers on a stagnant journey through the personal hells of all involved.

The film primarily follows Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) who, along with femme fatale Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), sells forged art, bad loans and runs Ponzi schemes out of the back of his small dry-cleaning operation.

When the FBI gets involved, the pair is forced to work with agent Richie Dimasio (Bradley Cooper) to take down corrupt U.S. politicians. Caught in the middle of this are Rosenfeld’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and Camden Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner).

Although acclaimed for its acting and all-star cast, most of “Hustle’s” performances fall short. Bale, with belly to rival 1970s director

George Lucas’, provides the only consistent character portrayal, one that is faultless, believable and entirely convincing.

As for the rest of the cast, particularly Adams and Lawrence, acting ranges between Oscar-worthy and really-good-high-school-play. In early scenes, Lawrence’s and Adams’ acting seem feigned and amateurish, New Jersey accents applied like the thick kitschy mascara on their dolled- up faces.

But it would be unfair not to acknowledge the highlights of both actresses’ performances. Adams, for most of the film, plays her role as a manipulative, sexy, self-reliant seductress to a T and Lawrence takes advantage of many opportunities to lay down the heavy mental instability of her character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” another Russell film.

Unfortunately, like a growing number of period pieces, “American Hustle” places too much weight on the period and precious little on the actual piece — unless by “piece” one in referring to Bale’s massive toupee, in which case the movie does an excellent job.

The plot is dull, the dialogue often unbearably corny and predictable and the film as a whole seems painted over with some burnt umber lacquer, as if the filmmakers expected the audience to be so enthralled with the glossy browns and oranges of the ‘70s as to overlook the film’s lack of substance and motion. Indeed, the scenes seem to be arranged with the sole purpose of giving each Hollywood star equal and alternating screen time.

However, Russell’s directing garners some level of interest. The same creativity seen in “Silver Linings Play- book” can be also be found in “American Hustle,” the camera often swerving and tilting, but semi-gracefully, not unlike an inebriated ice-skater.

But Russell’s camera alone is not enough to save this film, one that tries to take viewers on a ride, an adventure, a twist-turny psychological promenade and ends up leaving them flat on the curb.

As an alternative, this reviewer offers up Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation” (1974), a real 70s psychological thriller with real plot twists and mostly real hair! The film is available on Netflix.