“Shooting Fish,” not as inspired or amusing as it might be, leans heavily on the considerable charm of its three young and attractive principals. Their charisma and the film’s larky spirit, English locales and elaborate cons might be just enough to divert easily satisfied date-night audiences.
Even so, “Shooting Fish” is an awful lot like lots of other pictures with an overly complicated and improbable plot that you try to follow at your peril. With “Shooting Fish” it’s definitely best to sit back and go with its flow.
Dylan (Dan Futterman), an alumnus of the American Friendly Home for Boys, and Jez (Stuart Townsend), who survived an English institution, the Our Lady of Suffering Orphanage, meet in London, where Dylan has fled the U.S. from one of his backfired get-rich-quick schemes.
Dylan is the fearless, fast-talking kind of guy who wouldn’t hesitate to try to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge while the shy Jez is an electronics whiz.
When the two join talents in trying to con business types into investing in their dazzlingly innovative computer prototype they hire as a temp typist the lovely Georgie (Kate Beckinsale), a med student in need of some quick cash.
It doesn’t take much for Georgie to realize she’s signed on with a pair of con men, as daring as they are reckless.
Yet she’s beguiled by these nice-looking guys, especially when Dylan lays on his Robin Hood-of-the-'90s rationale: Why he and Jez are merely stealing from the rich to benefit poor orphans. Naturally, both fellows are smitten with Georgie, with Jez developing deep feelings that he’s awkward in expressing.
Even if “Shooting Fish” packs nothing like the belly laughs of the deliciously outrageous “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988), it does reflect director and co-writer Stefan Schwartz’s concern for telling details and his ability to make his three stars shine brightly.
Best known as Robin Williams’ son in “The Birdcage” and impressive star of the upcoming “1999,” Futterman is certainly adept at playing smart, sarcastic men, and Beckinsale, so funny as the unflappable heroine of John Schlesinger’s “Cold Comfort Farm,” just glows as an aristocrat facing disaster with considerable aplomb. Townsend’s Jez has a sweetness that contrasts well with Dylan’s brashness.
“Shooting Fish,” which has as its production design set-piece a vast, elaborate pad that Dylan and Jez have created within a huge oil storage tank, is smart enough to move fast and to keep its spirits up but, at almost two hours, it overstays its welcome.
That’s something Dylan would never do.
* MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements, suggestive humor and language. Times guidelines: Parents may find the film’s amoral tone unsuitable for their children.
Dan Futterman: Dylan
Stuart Townsend: Jez
Kate Beckinsale: Georgie
Nicholas Grace: Mr. Stratton-Luce
A Fox Searchlight Pictures presentation of a Gruber Brothers production in association with Winchester Multimedia, the Arts Council of England and Tomboy Films. Producers Richard Holmes and Glynis Murray. Executive producer Gary Smith. Screenplay by Schwartz and Holmes. Cinematographer Henry Braham. Editor Alan Strachan. Costume designer Stewart Meachem. Music Stanislas Syrewicz. Production designer Max Gottlieb. Art director Sue Ferguson. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
* At selected theaters in Los Angeles and Orange counties.