Sumeet Bal
March 05, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Taking a break from such gritty, ponderous epics as ”Gladiator” and ”Black Hawk Down,” director Ridley Scott returns to his sassy ”Thelma & Louise” style with a quirky and slick style piece. Matchstick Men centers on a neurotic, compulsive con artist — played to tic-ridden perfection by Nicolas Cage. On top of his physical and neurological burdens, he’s saddled with a butter-smooth partner in crime (Sam Rockwell) and a suddenly resurfaced teenage daughter (a 22-year-old Alison Lohman in a beguiling, wide-eyed performance). In the end, though, maybe Scott is the real matchstick man: The filmmaker has us believe we’re getting a madcap comedy, but instead we end up with a cautionary tale of retribution and salvation.

EXTRAS The straightforward commentary by Scott and screenwriters Ted and Nicholas Griffin (who adapted Eric Garcia’s novel) is no shell game, nor is the for-film-geeks-only ”Tricks of the Trade” featurette.

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