'Titanic' behind him, DiCaprio shines in 'Catch Me'

by Kate Carolan | 1/10/03 6:00am

With horrible images of "Titanic" stuck in my mind, I was rather dubious about Leo's potential to salvage his acting career in "Catch Me If You Can" -- which was an unfortunate presumption if I was hoping to see any movies, since he's starring in two of the biggest box-offices smashes this season.

Luckily, I was mistaken. With this year's cinema heroes being a pre-teen wizard and a tag team of two hobbits and a sexy elf, Leo-nardo was the holiday season's cunning criminal. With the smarts and creativity of Kevin Spacey in "The Usual Suspects" and the clever escapes of Sean Connery in "The Rock," DiCaprio is the quintessential smart, loveable criminal.

All the suspenseful chase scenes that transpire are captivating, as Frank Abagnale Jr. (DiCaprio) deceives people in about a thousand different cities while being pursued by FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). I thoroughly enjoyed waiting anxiously for him to assume his next bogus identity.

But I can't lie. My favorite part of the movie was undoubtedly the beginning. Not even the start of the movie -- we're talking opening credits here.

Reminiscent of James Bond films, they introduce the Bond identity that DiCaprio later uses to mold his persona. No plot, no suspense -- just happy music and really cool animation, fitting very well with the '60s setting of the film, typical of the time period -- psychedelic pop, mod. It sounds crazy, but I have now spoken with several people who agree that the credits are one of the best parts of the film.

The movie is engaging and fun to follow in that it rarely returns to the same set. You're just able to sit back and follow DiCaprio as he gallivants around the globe. The film is essentially a glorified Looney Tunes cartoon.

Abagnale is chased halfway around the world by Hanratty, who's onto him for his fraudulent check writing. Throughout the time Hanratty is following Frank, Frank manages to impersonate a doctor, a lawyer and an airline pilot. And each time, just as Hanratty comes within inches of him, Abagnale always escapes.

The quality of acting and directing from some of Hollywood's most renowned faces is part of what makes the film a success. Stars such as DiCaprio, Hanks, Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen are led adeptly under Steven Spielberg's direction.

There are some loose ends left hanging at the end of the movie -- something Spielberg is notorious for. The matter of Frank Abag-nale Sr. (Walken) is left unanswered. It's made clear throughout the movie that Frank Sr. is being pursued by the IRS, but it didn't seem like typical tax evasion. A trick with a necklace, which Frank learned from his father, and the importance of the checkbook Frank Sr. gave his son for his birthday led me to wonder if perhaps the father was indebted to the IRS for crimes similar to the son's. It's something the movie never fully explains.

The other loose end was the sudden genius that seems to fall onto Frank Jr. like a ton of bricks at a certain point in the movie. He goes from being a kid who runs away from home and starts bouncing checks to a master check forger and con artist. It's odd that Spielberg waits so long to evolve Frank Jr.'s intelligence.

Then there's that TV show in the beginning of the movie. While it does serve to introduce Frank Abagnale Jr., I was fully expecting the movie to return to that show at some point -- but it never did.

Despite the loose ends, the movie is clever and just plain fun. Even better, it's based on a true story, which is the most amazing part of it all.

I would just like to leave you with a short tale. There were once two mice that fell into a bowl of cream. The first mouse gave up and drowned. The second mouse kept struggling until finally it had churned the cream into butter and walked out. I won't ruin the ending for you, but I will tell you that Frank Abagnale Jr. is that second mouse.