Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Parent Guide
Lots of laughs but they are mixed in with cringeworthy moments, sexual innuendo, and truly offensive portrayals of people with physical or mental disabilities.
Parent Movie Review
Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is living the dream. The suave Englishman has parlayed his cultural literacy, sartorial elegance, and upper-class accent into a lucrative career as a con man, swindling gullible women on the French Riviera. As the film opens, he and his confederates are convincing women that he is a minor royal, living in poverty as he tries to raise money for freedom fighters. All is going well until he meets Freddy Benson (Steve Martin), a brash American and low rent con man who sniffs out Jamieson’s operation and decides he wants a piece of the action.
Threatened with exposure, Jamieson agrees to take Freddy under his wing and share the secrets of the high-end confidence game. The two work up a lucrative scam until Freddy wants a bigger piece of the pie. Since the town clearly isn’t big enough for both of them, they agree on a bet: the first man to seduce and swindle Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly), the newly arrived American soap queen, will get to stay and the loser will leave town.
The results are mixed bag from a cinematic perspective. On the plus side, there are some very funny moments and Steve Martin’s genius for physical comedy partially saves what is an extremely annoying character. In fact, Freddy is so incredibly aggravating that I found myself rooting for Jamieson throughout the film. The movie also has a great twist at the ending that will leave audiences laughing.
Unfortunately, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels also has some significant flaws – aside from the obvious fact that it is based on men swindling women. The pacing is uneven and drags in the middle. And Martin’s character isn’t convincing as a con man – I find it difficult to believe that women would be so easily suckered by such an aggravating man. And parents will be unhappy with the movie’s repeated sexual innuendo, including what a scene where a woman lies down on her bed and unbuttons her shirt, and a plot point revolving around a wager on which man can bed a woman first. Regular alcohol consumption and smoking are also downsides to this production. But possibly the most offensive part of this movie is its appalling portrayal of people with mental or physical disabilities. As part of their joint scam, Freddy pretends to be Jamieson’s mentally disabled brother and the portrayal is cartoonishly awful. Freddy is creepy, violent, and sometimes sexually intimidating to the women they are swindling. He later pretends to be disabled and uses his wheelchair as a ploy for sympathy.
Audiences looking for laughs will find them in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. But they come with mixed messages and cringeworthy moments that might leave viewers feeling like they have been swindled out of two hours they could have devoted to a better film.Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Steve Martin, Michael Caine, and Glenne Headly. Running time: 110 minutes. Theatrical release December 14, 1988. Updated May 2, 2019
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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Rating & Content Info
Why is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels rated PG? Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is rated PG by the MPAA
Violence: A man pretending to be a doctor repeatedly strikes another character who is pretending to be paralyzed. A man pretends to be suicidal and pushes his empty wheelchair down some stairs and then tips it over and lies down next to it and pretends he fell. Men threaten a man with violence and then abduct him. A man has his hand superglued to a door frame.
Sexual Content: There is frequent, albeit often coded, reference to sexual activity. A character is threatened with a “genital cuff”. Two men make a bet about who can bed a woman first. A woman lies down on her bed and starts to unbutton her blouse. A man has his clothes stolen while he is in the shower. Men and women kiss. We see men and women in very revealing swimwear.
Profanity: A handful of moderate profanities are used in this film.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Main characters frequently drink alcohol. One is shown drunk in a hotel. Characters smoke.
Page last updated May 2, 2019
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Parents' Guide
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a remake of a 1964 film called Bedtime Story. Why do you think stories like this are popular? Why do we enjoy hearing about criminals who succeed at their nefarious activities?
Why do you think the women in this movie fall for the scams? What can you do to protect yourself from con artists?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Frank Abagnale Jr. spent his early young adult years running highly successful cons, until he was arrested and incarcerated. His skills brought him to the attention of the FBI, and he turned his aptitude for forgery to law enforcement. His books include an account of his years as a con artist, Catch Me If You Can, and more books about how to protect yourself from con artists like him. These include The Art of the Steal: How to Protect Yourself and Your Business from Fraud; Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan; and Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today’s Ripoff Artists.
If you enjoy reading about the exploits of successful (or not) con artists, check out Andreas Schroeder’s books, Scams, Scandals, and Skulduggery and Fakes, Frauds, and Flimflammery. Schroder also has a series for younger readers. These include Scams! (True Stories from the Edge); Thieves! (True Stories from the Edge); and Duped!: True Stories of the World’s Best Swindlers (It Actually Happened).
Related home video titles:
Possibly the best con film ever made, The Sting stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman and earned seven Academy Awards in 1973.
Catch Me If You Can is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who combines his skills at forgery with a genius for impersonation to con major corporations while passing as an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer.
In To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant plays a retired cat burglar who is under suspicion when a new thief imitates his modus operandi, stealing jewelry from wealthy tourists on the French Riviera. He joins forces with Grace Kelly, playing a bored socialite, to catch the new thief.