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Catch Me if You Can Reviews

Alfred Hitchcock called them "Technicolor baubles" — exquisitely crafted costume jewels (like his own TO CATCH A THIEF) that lose their luster next to real gems like VERTIGO. Steven Spielberg's jaunty escapade, which comes after a string of much darker and more complex films (A.I. ARTIFICAL INTELLIGENCE, MINORITY REPORT), is such a trinket, based on the 1980 memoir by Frank Abagnale Jr., a master impostor who successfully passed himself off as an airline pilot, a pediatrician, a lawyer, a sociology professor and a stockbroker — all before he turned 21. By the time the FBI finally caught up with him — Abagnale's Inspector Javert was a tireless G-man named Joe Shaye — he'd used those personas to cash over $2 million in bad checks. It's a fascinating story that says as much about the more trusting climate of the '60s as it does about Abagnale, who saw fit to abuse that trust for fun and profit, and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson sticks fairly close to the facts. We first meet Abagnale (played with great, cunning charm by Leonardo DiCaprio) in 1969, languishing in a wretched French prison where he's been checkmated by a fictionalized version of Shaye, FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks, affecting an absurd Boston accent as broad as the state of Massachusetts). The action then flashes back to six years earlier, when 16-year-old Abagnale returns home from school to the news that his parents (Nathalie Baye, Christopher Walken) are getting divorced. Crushed, Abagnale runs away to New York City, where he starts writing one bad check after another, until he realizes he'd stand a better chance of getting away with it if he were dressed as that exemplar of glamour and respectability: an airline pilot. With a stunning combination of audacity and ingenuity, Frank procures a pilot's uniform and bogus Pan Am ID badge, and is soon criss-crossing the country, flying gratis and passing bum checks wherever he goes, and dodging Hanratty, who's caught his scent. Nathanson and Spielberg choose to see Abagnale's criminal compulsion as a childlike — and uninteresting — desire to reconstitute his broken family, but the movie is so entertaining you'll hardly care. "Dazzle 'em with style," Abagnale Sr. advises his son, advice the filmmakers have clearly taken to heart. The whole lighter-than-air lark whizzes by like a brisk, kandy-kolored dream of the 1960s, flavored by a Saul Bass inspired credit sequence; a slinky, Henry Mancini-esque score; and a stunning array of period sets and evocative locales.