It would be next to impossible to pull off the same kind of deliriously original con game on the audience that George Roy Hill and company achieved in 1973’s The Sting, but director Jeremy Paul Kagan and his merry band of players don’t come anywhere close to matching the original achievement in the 1983 follow-up The Sting II.
The Production: 2.5/5
It would be next to impossible to pull off the same kind of deliriously original con game on the audience that George Roy Hill and company achieved in 1973’s The Sting, but director Jeremy Paul Kagan and his merry band of players don’t come anywhere close to matching the original achievement in the 1983 follow-up The Sting II. Even with the same screenwriter and a clutch of superb actors to give the impossible dream their all, The Sting II is a pallid, desultory attempt to take another bite out of the con game apple.
Nursing a grudge for four years after losing half a million dollars to grifters Gondorff (Jackie Gleason) and Hooker (Mac Davis), Doyle Lonnegan (Oliver Reed) is determined to get his money back by observing from afar as the two swindlers attempt to pull off a boxing scam on master criminal Gus Macalinski (Karl Malden). By taking part in their con game without their knowing it, Lonnegan hopes to not only get his original losses back twofold, but he also plots that either Macalinski or a cop (Val Avery) chasing Hooker will permanently put out the lights on their grifting.
Screenwriter David S. Ward, who won an Oscar for his brilliant script for the original movie, has set this sequel up with basically the same sequence of events: the two cons hook their prey (this time in a game of pool), the younger con pretends to be in league with his prey to set up the sting, and then the con happens with a series of surprise revelations following. The problems, however, are twofold: neither the set-ups nor the con game is nearly as brilliantly plotted as before (the final twist to this con – that Lonnegan will reveal what he knows to Macalinski so a pivotal bet can be changed – couldn’t possibly be known in advance and is actually a fluke when things go down as they do) and even more problematic: none of the original actors from the original movie reprise their roles here. No matter how entertaining they are, Jackie Gleason, Mac Davis, and Oliver Reed are not Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Robert Shaw (though to be fair, Oliver Reed was the original first choice for Lonnegan and work conflicts didn’t permit him to take the part). Ward has changed the first names of his con men from Henry to Fargo and Johnny to Jake, but since Lonnegan is seeking revenge for the con which had pulled on him, it’s obvious these are meant to be the same characters. Jeremy Paul Kagan directs securely enough though pacing is rather languid, and the fight scene camera jumps in and out of the ring too much; the fight choreography is rather wan, too, especially since Hooker hasn’t boxed for seven years and the beating he takes wouldn’t realistically allow him to make such a startling physical recovery (even if a fix was on).
While he’s a fine actor, Jackie Gleason never endears Gondorff to the viewer, so there is less rooting interest there than with Paul Newman, and Mac Davis’ good ol’ boy country charm seems a bit out of place among these slick Northern grifters. Karl Malden has the requisite ego and bullying personality as the dastardly Gus Macalinski, but Oliver Reed imbues his Lonnegan with a quietly superior air that is the opposite of the brutish bluster that Robert Shaw brought to the original character. Among the principals, Teri Garr as a con woman playing both sides against one another seems to be having the most fun with her original character, and Jose Perez likewise excels as Lonnegan’s loyal henchman. Ron Rifkin also gets to try on a variety of disguises amusingly as Hooker’s best friend and con-man colleague.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from a slight scratch or occasional dig in the image, the visual quality is excellent. The warm film tone is quite cinematic, and color and sharpness are excellent, all the better to examine some of the fetching 1940’s fashions, automobiles, and set designs. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is very era-appropriate. Though Lalo Schifrin uses a motley combination of original music cues (which earned him an Oscar nomination) and some Scott Joplin rags, the dialogue-heavy soundtrack has been well recorded, and the sound effects, particularly in the climactic boxing match, are very realistic. There are no problems at all with hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.
Special Features: 2/5
Audio Commentary: director Jeremy Kagan shares warm memories about the making of the film, recalling anecdotes about Jackie Gleason, Mac Davis, Oliver Reed, and Karl Malden that are not the kinds of things one finds in a Hollywood history book. Well worth a listen.
Theatrical Trailer (2:09, SD)
Kino Trailers: Miracles, The Brink’s Job, Disorganized Crime, Oscar.
The Sting II is an anemic follow-up to its brilliantly original parent film, but fans of the stars or of caper films in general may want to give this one a look even if it doesn’t begin to match any of the qualities that made The Sting special.