My goodness, a lot happens during "American Hustle," David O. Russell's live-wire late '70s/early '80s- style show loosely based on the FBI Abscam operation.

The camera dances and darts, pushes in and pulls away, as stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence scream, gesticulate and spew reams of slick dialogue. Plot developments unfurl ferociously.

Everyone's scamming someone in this portrait of con artists (Bale and Adams) teaming up with a manic FBI agent (Cooper) to bring down the corrupt mayor of Camden, N.J. (Jeremy Renner).

Yet Russell is so enamored with the period pizazz -- the outrageous hairstyles and outfits, the chest hair, the strobe-lit clubs, the yellows and browns -- that the movie flatlines.

While Martin Scorsese might have known how to burrow beneath the surface to extract a meaningful story -- the film resembles "Goodfellas" -- Russell produces a giant muddle.

"Hustle" is set in New York and New Jersey, but there are no larger ideas here, no tangible sense of place or perspective beyond a kinetic journey into abstract '70s land.

Despite the best efforts of standout Bale and most of his co-stars, the characters don't resonate. They're devices constructed to move from one meticulously composed setup to the next. The modicum of backstory is quickly brushed over and the central romance is overwhelmed by the frenzy.

Russell has made a career out of working in this amped-up mode. But past efforts such as "Silver Linings Playbook" incorporated that style to serve stories that touched on resonant emotions and experiences. There's preciously little of that here.


Directed by David O. Russell

Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence

Rated R