There may not be much behind the sparkling tinsel curtain of David O. Russell's extraordinarily entertaining American Hustle. But what a curtain! Christian Bale in an endearingly artificial hairpiece, Amy Adams in a series of slippery '70s dresses cut down to there, Jennifer Lawrence in a tousled blond updo, two parts Ellen Barkin to one part Angie Dickinson: There's tons of artifice in American Hustle, but it's not the special-effects kind. Bale plays Bronx–born con artist Irving Rosenfeld: In the opening, he carefully spirit-glues fake hair onto his cue ball pate. His main squeeze, Sydney Prosser (Adams), is a vixen who speaks with a pinkie-up British accent — though she's really from Albuquerque — and she's Irving's partner in a number of naughty little schemes. They're in love and desperately happy, but for two complications: They've attracted the attention of loose-cannon FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper, in a decidedly unsexiest-man-alive man-perm), who offers a deal if they'll help snare a few baddies. Plus, Irving has a wife and a kid, and he's principled enough to want to stick by them. And so he does, even after wife Rosalyn, played by Lawrence, nearly sets the family home aflame by falling asleep under a sunlamp: Lawrence makes her entrance like a harlequin, her face half crimson. Russell, hardly the most sensual of filmmakers, delights in Lawrence, which may be one reason the movie works so well. You'd never credit him with a light touch, but American Hustle cruises along like a line of wedding guests doing the Electric Slide. Its plot mechanics are impossible to take seriously and yet deeply pleasurable to parse, right up to the who's-screwing-whom ending.
David O. RussellChristian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Jennifer Lawrence, Louis C.K., Alessandro Nivola, Dawn OlivieriEric Warren Singer, David O. RussellCharles Roven, Richard Suckle, Megan EllisonSony Pictures