"The Sting II," with Jackie Gleason, bills itself as the sequel to the 1973 Oscar-winner. The writer's the same and so's the piano player, but otherwise it's bait-and-switch -- an expansion, not a continuation, says director Jeremy Paul Kagan. That's the scam.
The film is amusing, richly adorned, but more loosely constructed and less energetically performed than its namesake. Gleason, who seems to have given up acting, doesn't put much into his part beyond a certain sartorial splendor. And the complexity of what turns into a triple con requires a host of secondary characters so equally weighted that the tension bleeds away.
The principals -- Gondorff (Gleason), Hooker (Mac Davis) and Veronica (Teri Garr) -- set up an intricate trap, which a vengeful gangster (Oliver Reed) means to spring on them. The not-so-innocent victim of the double con is Macalinski, a '40s racketeer played by Karl Malden, this film's muggingest, spunkiest star. Garr, classy in 10 changes of costume, also perks up the proceedings. It's the first time she's been "the only girl" on screen, she says -- and it's high time, too.
As Veronica, she helps Gondorff set up Macalinski; then, Hooker pretends to be a boxer to sucker Mac into betting $400,000 on a fixed fight. The twists and turns from there on are more predictable than suspenseful. So are the jokes. Considering the broad comedic skills of the cast, "Sting II" would have worked better with more bunk and less bunco. STING II -- At area theaters.