Con Artists and 10 Percenters

In Confidence and People I Know

As the movie opens, Launer, who has been threatening to fire Eli, asks him to baby-sit a temperamental starlet named Jilli Hopper (played with some desperation by a woefully miscast Téa Leoni) for the evening. After bailing Jilli out of jail, Eli reluctantly accompanies her back to the high-profile party where she was arrested to retrieve a computer toy she left there. The place turns out to be a sex-and-opium den for high rollers, and later that night, Eli, fogged by this and other drugs overprescribed by his physician (comedian Robert Klein), looks on helplessly as Jilli is doped, raped and—it will later transpire—murdered in her hotel suite, leaving Eli in possession of the toy, in which all manner of unexpected people are taking an unhealthy interest.

Directed by Dan Algrant from a script by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, People I Know is awkwardly derivative, both in subject and noirish ambiance, of Alexander Mackendrick's far more pungent 1957 Sweet Smell of Success. Clifford Odets, adapting Ernest Lehman's novel, was out to lift the lid on a corrupt world, but he had both an amused appetite for its excesses and an unflinching moral sensibility. People I Know is chilly and humorless, fueled by the cynical belief—a creeping affliction among some former '60s leftists who can no longer find a flag to hoist—that power corrupts everyone who wields it. For all its knowing veneer, the movie is politically crude and undiscriminating. The dishonest and the decadent pile up—not just tycoons and pols, but rabbis, reverends and ACLU bigwigs are also implicated, until there's no one left ethically intact but Eli and a rather redundant sister-in-law (Kim Basinger, looking très Hepburn) who blows in from the South to lure him back to a simpler, nobler life. As a thriller, People I Know—which has languished unreleased since 2001—is barely plausible. As a critique of the meshing of power politics between East and West coasts, the movie is more smart-alecky than wise. And as the human face of Tony Curtis' venal, conniving press agent in Sweet Smell of Success, Eli Wurman is less than convincing. When all is said and done, a public-relations flack seems an odd choice to represent the spirit of the '60s, let alone its death knell.

Confidence was directed by James Foley; written by Doug Jung; produced by Marc Butan, Michael Paseornek, Michael Burns and Michael Ohoven; and stars Edward Burns and Dustin Hoffman. Now playing countywide;People I Know was directed by Dan Algrant; written by Jon Robin Baitz; produced by Michael Nozik, Leslie Urdang and Karen Tenkhoff; and stars Al Pacino and Ryan O'Neal. Now playing at select theaters.

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