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Movies for Grownups

'American Hustle' Does the '70s in Style

Rating: R

Running Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

Stars: Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner

Director: David O. Russell

Why do movies like American Hustle — which purports to re-create the go-go world of 1970s America — make me feel like I was sleepwalking through the period in question?

AMERICAN HUSTLE (Francois Duhamel/Annapurna Productions LLC)

Amy Adams and Christian Bale revisit 1970s America in "American Hustle." — Annapurna Productions

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Did New York really throb with this kind of anything-goes, wheeler-dealer vibe? Did guys actually wear tight perms like Bradley Cooper's skull-hugging 'do? Did the women in fact bare as much of themselves on the street as Amy Adams does in this film? And was all of the music as electrifying as Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die"? (Or Tom Jones' "Delilah," a late '60s tune that gets prominent play here as well?)

Director/cowriter David O. Russell, I suspect, has taken more-or-less random artifacts of 1970s America, simmered them down and presented them in a highly condensed serving.

That said, it's an irresistible compote.

American Hustle begins with the cheeky title card: "Some of this actually happened." The "some" part is the infamous Abscam scandal, an FBI sting that caught several politicians selling influence to an Arab "sheik" who turned out to be a Fed. Cooper plays the FBI agent who masterminded the scheme; Adams and Christian Bale play two New Jersey con artists he coerces into helping him pull it off.

After that, it seems, fiction quickly overtakes history. No matter: The three stars play off one another perfectly, and the fun comes as their characters try to gain the upper hand by launching scams within scams against each other. Further complicating it all are the con man's mercurial wife (Jennifer Lawrence from The Hunger Games, deftly shooting insults instead of arrows) and the mayor of Camden, N.J. (Jeremy Renner, his hair channeling Joe Pesci's in Goodfellas), a basically decent man ensnared by the scam.

If American Hustle has anything real to say, it's some minor bromide about greed and corruption. Or might it be a meditation on the nature of loyalty? Ultimately, like its central characters, American Hustle is all about 'tude; of that, it's got a ton.

Bill Newcott writes about Movies for Grownups and other entertainment stories for AARP Media.

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