Just call her The Wolf of Geriatric Street. Like so many cinematic grifters before her, Boston conservator Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has mastered the art of her particular long con: seeking out the elderly and infirm and taking over legal guardianship of their lucrative estates.

What begins as a crisp black comedy by writer-director J Blakeson (The 5th Wave) sometimes struggles to find its tone, teetering between slapstick caper and straight-up thriller. But there's good fun in I Care a Lot's setup, and in Marla's ruthless M.O. Her formula seems nearly foolproof; the world after all is full of lonely people of a certain age, and who will look after them (or more accurately their bank routing numbers) if not her? Cooperative doctors and judges help grease the wheels; so does her willing girlfriend, Fran (Baby Driver's Eiza González).

I Care A Lot

That's where a cherry of a client named Jennifer (Dianne Wiest) comes in: childless, retired, and flummoxed enough at a regular checkup for her on-the-take physician (Alicia Witt) to send her Marla's way. Except this seemingly low-hanging fruit does not shake free as easily as it should; Jennifer, it turns out, has friends. Unexpected ones like Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage), a shadowy underworld figure with rage issues and resources — including the services of a suavely menacing lawyer played by Chris Messina — to burn.

The movie (on Netflix this Friday) drains much of the danger from these men simply by making them almost too clownishly incompetent to pull off their own scams, and the fantastic Wiest, sadly, is mostly wasted on the sidelines. Blaekson's script also can't entirely seem to decide if we're rooting for Marla or against her. (That we would be asked to cheer in any capacity for a woman who blithely locks up lonely seniors in order to drain their life savings is its own queasy off-screen morality tale.)

But Pike, who lately has taken the lead in noble biopics like last year's Radioactive and 2018's A Private War, feels unleashed by the wickedness of the role, gleefully sinking those gleaming white teeth into her finest villainy since Gone Girl. As the mercenary Marla — cool-eyed and indomitable, a razor blade poured into a buttercream blazer — she's delicious, a shiny-haired nihilist who couldn't care less if she tried. Grade: B

Related content: