By Daniel Fierman
May 09, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT
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In the 1960s, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. left high school and embarked on an astonishing worldwide crime spree — passing millions in bum checks and posing alternately as an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer. These were grand schemes — audacious, hilarious, and remarkable — and Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can almost lives up to them. Leonardo DiCaprio and the Oscar-nominated Christopher Walken are particularly fine as father and son, and from the gorgeous credit sequence to — and I’m as stunned to be writing this as you are to read it — John Williams’ score, the film glistens with expertise and artistry. Even the director’s tics, particularly his goofy reduction of everything to daddy issues, fade upon second glance.

There’s no doubt that Spielberg is on fire — like Michael Jordan in his prime, he makes the stunning appear effortless — but ”Catch Me if You Can” is missing something. And ironically what’s absent is the very thing that should be the movie’s long suit: giddy fun. Because while I’m sure a nasty parental divorce could lead a young man to a life of crime and depressed isolation, it had to have kinda been a good time to travel Europe with a million bucks and eight stewardesses, right?

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