Elaborate plastic scam

Elaborate plastic scam

Following in the footsteps of films like 21 and Runner, Runner that are based on true stories about student con artists who get in over their heads, Director (A Lonely Place to Die) Julian Gilbey’s Plastic, co-written by his brother William and Chris Howard, is based on a similar true story.

A group of four entrepreneurial university students embark on credit card fraud that brings them into conflict with ruthless criminals. The film is fun and entertaining in a mindless way, but the opportunity for acting is limited, the production values uneven, and the true story has been changed with a notable lack of plausibility.

Sam (Ed Speleers), Yatesy (Alfie Allen), Fordy (Will Poulter) and Rafa (Sebastian de Souza) are bored with university maths and economics classes and are wary of limited graduate prospects in the real world. But a job at McDonalds or work experience at KPMG is not for them: they are making serious money at credit card fraud and identity theft.

One night, two of the team go too far and assault the accountant of a psychopathic criminal named Marcel (Thomas Kretschmann) then steal his laptop. Having placed a tracer in the laptop, Marcel wastes no time in kidnapping the two culprits and then black mailing the students.

Their choice is either to die, work for Marcel forever, or come up with £2 million in a week to pay off their debt. Choosing the latter option, they decide their only hope is to target a couple of high worth individuals. To do so, however, they need to carry out the research and theft in Miami where most of them spend their time.

Sam and Yatesy both have fallen for the same pretty, sexy student, Frankie (Emma Rigby), who just so happens to work in a credit card processing company. Using charm and subterfuge, Sam gets Frankie (not the brightest student in England) onto their team, into his bed, onto a plane bound for Miami and into a bikini. When Yatesy gets drunk and wrecks their first plan, all seems lost.

Angry (at himself let’s hope) and jealous, Yatesy tells Frankie the truth behind Sam’s motives for needing the money.  Frankie then does her best acting by expressing surprise and righteous anger. To save the day, Sam masterminds an elaborate new scam to steal £20 million worth of jewels by pretending to be ordering them as a wedding gift for a wealthy Arab (a disguised Rafa).  It might have worked as planned had there been honour among thieves.

The first third of the film works reasonably well, if you don’t mind the limited range of acting. Once the team get to Miami, however, you begin to suspect they are there just to take us out of gloomy, over-filmed London. Yatesy seems to have lost his fear of Marcel and the very real chance he will be murdered.

Moreover, it is impossible to believe that Steve (Graham McTavish), a top jewellery salesman, would hand over an expensive case of jewels to a purported Sheik in a separate limo on the suspect grounds that he wants a ‘private viewing.’   It is also highly unlikely that college kids would have the knowledge, savvy and contacts to pull off an elaborate scam of this level.  The reality behind this ‘true story’ is, in fact, that the real fraudsters were not London students but 30-somethings from Manchester.  The jewel theft took place in L.A. and not in Miami and London as in the film.

In the opening scene, we see a self-confident Rafa working at a petrol station where he obtains pin codes while a colleague distracts the customer.  In the last shot, the filmmakers think they are being ironic showing Rafa working for real at a petrol station, having being expelled from university due to his conviction.  But who would put a young man imprisoned for credit card fraud behind the till of a petrol station?

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer