The Con Is On (2018) feels as if it is about three re-writes short of a finished sceenplay. It strives for a sort of Elmore Leonard / Steven Soderbergh vibe, but falls short of any vibe whatsoever. It has some great elements, including a talented cast, stunning locations, and beautiful automobiles. Production values are solid, with a refreshing lack of jiggly-cam shots and no detours from the plot to present sophomoric political views or allegories. The characters are interestingly self-absorbed, amoral and corrupt. Several have histories together, which are displayed in flashbacks or exposition - tools which need to be used more adroitly to maintain the pace. And yet, they somehow seem superficial. To an extent, there is an obvious effort to ridicule vacuous, self-indulgent hi-so types. The characters are absorbed with superficial concerns and seem a bit flighty and vacuous. But they also seem superficial in being underdeveloped.
Despite several strong elements, the script falls flat in executing several Screenwriting 101 elements. The protagonist is presumably Uma Thurman's Harriet; however, this character doesn't fit the role of a heroic lead, much less a sympathetic protagonist. One view is that the protagonist is the character with whom the audience identifies and wants to see succeed. But Harriet is a self-centered, conniving, self-indulgent sociopath and isn't very likeable, so it's difficult to identify with her character or to care whether she succeeds or gets her comeuppances. She's not an antihero, simply a lousy protagonist. Another view is that the protagonist is the character who must change the most, acquire new skills and knowledge and forge new alliances in order to overcome a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle. But this is a Point-A-to-Point-A story, like U-Turn and After Hours, where the characters have a series of misadventures, but wind up pretty much back where they started.
The movie lacks a consistent dramatic perspective. Flashbacks can be a very effective technique, particularly in detective stories, to visualize the possibly conflicting accounts of potentially unreliable witnesses, as in Rashomon or Lone Star. Otherwise, flashbacks and dream sequences should be limited to one character.
Tim Roth's Peter is good as a cynical, sardonic sidekick, but is practically catatonic in most scenes from drugs and alcohol. Stephen Fry's Sidney is irredeemably corrupt - one of those characters you love to hate. Alice Eve, Maggie Q, Sofia Vergara and Uma Thurman have each played beautiful, seductive characters in the past, but despite various subplots centered around unbridled passion, infidelity and unrequited love, TCIO is not very sexy. The con involves exploiting mistaken identities and deception, but no confidence game. The characters cook up a plot that isn't particularly devious or ingenious. The pace is ponderous. Despite a relatively brief ninety-minute length, it seems to drag.