The larky “Catch Me if You Can” is like a trot around the track for the thoroughbreds involved, and one of the results is that it takes them far too long to get to the finish line.
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Reeling from his beloved parents’ divorce, the 16-year-old left home and discovered talents for survival that he readily turned into a genius for scamming.
Playing out a string for an amazing five years, Abagnale successfully passed himself off as a Pan Am co-pilot, surgeon and lawyer while becoming a true master in one field in particular — that of writing bad checks.
Although the film reps a lightweight breather between the darker and more grandiose projects Spielberg is taking on these days, there may also lurk a personal connection for the director with the subject of the film.
After all, at the very same time Abagnale was pulling his stunts, the teenage Spielberg was dressing in coat and tie and trying to palm himself off as an executive on the Universal lot, a ploy that paid off when he got a TV directing gig by age 21.
In order to go to work for Brenda’s father, he takes the Louisiana bar exam after two weeks of studying and, in the feat that most confounds Hanratty years later, passes it.
Still, the jig is soon up and, having run up some million in fraud, he admits to his father, “I want this to be over.” Spielberg and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (the “Rush Hour” pics) might have taken this as a cue to begin wrapping things up themselves, but instead elaborate a great deal of follow-up material to more-is-less effect.
Info about how Abagnale, under Hanratty’s tutelage, came to become a check fraud expert for the FBI after serving but part of his prison sentence is interesting and satisfyingly ironic, but could have been dispensed in a fraction of the time.
Ultimately, the film pays for the excess baggage it takes on, suggesting this would have been a very good occasion for Spielberg to make his first under-two-hour film since “E.
Setting a fizzy mood via some very mid-’60s animated opening credits and a jazzy John Williams theme that harks back to his “Johnny” Williams days as pianist for Henry Mancini’s orchestra, pic gets off to a jaunty start as Di Caprio’s Abagnale is introduced as one of three contestants on the venerable gameshow “To Tell the Truth.” Unfortunately, neither is the mood consistently maintained nor is the climax of the TV show ever shown. (Christopher Walken) is a romantic, better at dreaming and scheming than at supporting his family.