“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a wonderfully crafted, absolutely charming remake of the 1964 film “Bedtime Story.” In this classy version, Steve Martin and Michael Caine play the competing French Riviera conmen trying to outscheme each other in consistently amusing and surprising setups. Martin takes the crass American role played by Marlon Brando, and Caine plays homage to David Niven by sporting a thin mustache, slicked-back hair and double-breasted blue blazer in a sort of 1930s British yachtsman look. Nice stands in for the fictional seaside town of Beaumont-sur-Mer.
Caine, ensconced in a seaside mansion, comes upon small-time con artist Martin in a train dining car ordering water instead of a meal while telling some poor doe-eyed French woman a sob story. Beaumont-sur-Mer, where Martin suddenly turns up, is not big enough for two men to go after the same bait. Caine challenges Martin to a $50,000 wager: The first one to extract that sum from the next unsuspecting fool gets to stay.
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Things get very sticky when the femme, a ‘soap queen’ (Glenne Headly) from Cleveland, becomes the object of the bet. Headly doesn’t look the part of the innocent abroad, but she plays it well enough.
Director Frank Oz clearly has fun with his subjects, helped out in good part by clever cutting and a great, imitative ’30s jazzy score by Miles Goodman.