What's most surprising about Nine Queens, a wry if awfully derivative caper come-on from first-time feature director-writer Fabián Bielinsky, is how easily it suckers you into its swindle. After all, you know from the jump that something's up. You've sniffed out this con before in the films of David Mamet, where no one is who he or she seems and nothing is done without dual purpose. You're no simp to get taken again. And yet, here it is -- another double cross for which you will, and should, hand over your few grubby bucks.
Nine Queens takes its time, enjoying the game like an expert too wise to tip his hand too soon. It revels in the small lies, the taking of chump change here and there, before at long last offering up the bigger score: rare German stamps known as the "Nine Queens," said to be worth millions by those offering pennies on the dollar for them.
It begins in a convenience store, where a young man named Juan (Gastón Pauls) is faking change from the woman behind the counter. He's a novice (or so it seems) with a kind face, but prone to mistakes. He tries to double-dip and gets caught by a cop (or so it seems). But the cop is another grifter, a grizzled vet named Marcos (Ricardo Darín), who is shoplifting for kicks and offers the kid a deal: Marcos needs a partner, and if Juan will pair up for the day, they'll split the profits 50-50. Or so it seems.
Before long, the two men are confronted with a "once in a million" opportunity: One of Marcos's estranged partners, Sandler (Óscar Nùñez), is ailing and in desperate need of assistance in moving the Nine Queens in the next 24 hours -- before his prospective buyer leaves town and before the buyer discovers they're little more than forgeries. If Marcos will help, he can keep 10 percent of the take -- a figure Marcos ups to 90, since he's the one assuming all the risk.
And so begins a game of cat and mouse, with no animal distinguishable from another. Bielinsky's actors are game, seeing as how they're playing actors of a different stripe. And unlike Mamet, who likes to give a gravity to his con games that too often sinks them, Bielinsky's just taking a piss. That's what these movies mean to do: manipulate you, trick you, take your money, and leave you with little more than a what-the-fuh grin.