An aging con artist living on the titular "$5 a Day" in Atlantic City, N.J., bamboozles his estranged son into a long-distance road trip in this nifty character-driven comedy.

An aging con artist living on the titular “$5 a Day” in Atlantic City, N.J., bamboozles his estranged son into a long-distance road trip in this nifty character-driven comedy. Smoothly helmed by Nigel Cole (“Saving Grace,” “Calendar Girls”) and fueled by quirky comic turns from Christopher Walken and Sharon Stone, pic should reap welcome coin in arthouse engagements for Stateside distrib ThinkFilm. It should also tickle the funny bone of the international specialty biz.

Carefully planning the route to accommodate as many freebies as possible, as well as half a dozen hidden agendas, Nat (Walken) persuades skeptical son Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) to take the wheel of a pink PT Cruiser customized to look like a Sweet’N Low packet. The course of their journey provides an opportunity for further amusing sight gags, the hilarious playing out of some audacious scams and, ultimately, filial reconciliation.

When a detour to Amarillo, Texas, takes the pair to the home of Flynn’s former babysitter Delores (Stone), it turns out that she has her own line of successful swindles — and carries a torch for Nat. She also knows a thing or two Flynn doesn’t about his parents’ marriage.

The tight script by Neal and Tippi Dobrofsky makes palpable Flynn’s mixture of fear and pride that he might become his father, and the fact that “bribes” are a part of everyday life.

Costumed in the briefest of black bikinis, and later, a transparent negligee, the leggy Stone manages to etch a fully rounded character during her short screen time.

As the son who comes to terms with his past, Nivola is fine, but really, he’s just along for the ride. Pic belongs to Walken’s deadpan, jive-talking, b.s. artist Nat.

Talented d.p. Peter Donahue (“Junebug,” “The Fog of War”) gives the proceedings a realistic, grainy look, while editor Susan Littenberg maximizes the comic flow. Spot-on production design and costumes lead the precision-tooled tech package.

$5 a Day

Production

A ThinkFilm release of a Capitol Films, Baum/Goldenring production, in association with Grand Army Entertainment, Aramid Entertainment Fund. (International sales: ThinkFilm, New York.) Produced by Carol Baum, Jane Goldenring, Kia Jam. Executive producers, David Bergstein, Warren T. Goz, Stewart McMichael. Directed by Nigel Cole. Screenplay, Neal H. Dobrofsky, Tippi Dobrofsky.

Crew

Camera (color), Peter Donahue; editor, Susan Littenberg; music, Alex Wurman; production designer, Bryce Perrin; costume designer, Melissa Bruning; sound (Dolby Digital), Patrick O'Sullivan. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 10, 2008. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Christopher Walken, Alessandro Nivola, Sharon Stone, Peter Coyote, Amanda Peet, Dean Cain.

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