SHARPER: 3 STARS. “feel a bit shopworn, especially if you’ve ever seen ‘The Sting.’”
The new Apple TV+ movie “Sharper,” starring Julianne Moore, Justice Smith and Sebastian Stan, is a story of love and lies, of swindles and avarice, of plot twists and, unfortunately, despite the zig-zaggy story, predictability.
The film opens with a rom-commy meet cute between book store clerk Tom (Smith) and Sandra (Briana Middleton), a student at NYU studying Redefining Radicalism the Rise of Black Feminism in American Literature. He asks her out for dinner, she demurs, but, like all good New York City romances, fate intervenes and they fall deeply in love.
But soon into the relationship it appears that Sandra isn’t as buttoned down as she first appears.
Welcome to the no-spoiler zone.
At this point director Benjamin Caron, best known for helming the acclaimed Benedict Cumberbatch “Sherlock” series, “The Crown” and “Andor,” goes episodic, breaking the film into sections to provide backstories for the characters and insight on their interconnecting relationships.
We meet Max (Stan), a shady character who always comes prepared with a quick line and a plan for parting some poor unsuspecting sucker with their hard-earned cash.
Moore and Lithgow play high society types Madeline and Richard. He is a self-made billionaire; she is a trophy wife with a troubled son.
Other chapters fill in Tom and Sandra’s comings-and-goings.
These seemingly unrelated characters are, of course, all closely related in a high stakes game of deception and duplicity where there will be big time winners and losers, cast aside to be forgotten about.
The film’s title refers to someone who is a gambling cheat or confidence man, and there is certainly enough of that on display, but taken in a different context, the story of “Sharper” isn’t as sharp as the literal meaning of the title might suggest. The structure is interesting, the characters compelling, if a little by-the book—there is the rich old man who falls for a beautiful younger women, the cold-as-ice conman and his emotional victims—but the multiple, crisscrossing con games on display aren’t clever enough by half to provide the payoff necessary for the movie to make an impression.
The script offers a few surprises (just don’t watch the trailer before watching the film) but the big game, the elaborate scams, feel a bit shopworn, especially if you’ve ever seen “The Sting.”
“Sharper’s” biggest con isn’t perpetrated by the characters, but by director Caron, who skillfully finds a way to string along the audience for almost two hours before leaving them empty handed in the finale.