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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Modern Con Man DVD Collection
Modern Con Man DVD Collection
First Run Features // Unrated // September 15, 2009
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted September 29, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Set:
 
Todd Robbins was profiled in the interesting documentary American Carny: True Tales from the Circus Sideshow.  He's a performer and promoter who was trying to keep the tradition of sideshow acts alive on Coney Island.  Todd was entertaining and compelling in that film, so when I heard that there was a set of instructional videos he created on simple cons and tricks, I jumped at the chance to watch it.  Modern Con Man is a hit and miss collection but the set as a whole lands firmily in the 'hit' catagory.
 
Made in 2007, Robbins bills himself as "America's #1 Con Man" which was probably not a bad idea at the time.  After all who wasn't intrigued by the anti-hero con man Sawyer from Lost?  Since Bernie Maddof though, people probably find con men a little less romantic and are more likely to think of them a cruel predators, but don't let the name put you off.  This is actually a set of fun and clever bar bets, rigged games, and harmless pranks that will have friends laughing more than anything else.
 
The set contains three discs that each run between 45 and 75 minutes with the tricks and cons separated by theme.  Todd makes a point of stating some very good rules at that beginning and end of each disc:
 
 1) People should practice on friends first (a very good idea)
 2) If done incorrectly for significant sums of money the novice con man runs the risk of getting the crap knocked out of him
3)  That grifters never die rich
 
So this is clearly just for fun.  After all, how many real conmen would advertise that they are "America's #1 Con Man" and expect to make a living after that.
 
The three discs are:      
 
How to Scam Your Way to Free Beer and Other Bar Bets: 
 
This disc is filled with simple cons that you can do in a bar room setting using glasses, drinks, and napkins. Between each gag there are also some amusing pick up lines.  Lines like "Did you invite all these people?  I thought it was going to be just the two of us." probably wouldn't work (unless the girl was really drunk or desperate) but they are funny none the less.
 


Some of the tricks are quite ingenious, like the one where you bet someone that they can't remove a $10 bill that is under an inverted beer bottle.  When they try to removed it by pulling either slowly or quickly, the top-heave bottle invariably falls.  You then bet the mark that you can do it.   The trick is to roll the bill slowly from one end and when you get to the bottle it slowly pushes it off the bill.
 
A lot of these involve plays on words or vague instructions, and at first they are amusing but after a while viewers will start to see the scam coming.  One that was particularly lame was where you bet someone that you can "tell where you got your shoes."  When they agree you look carefully at their footwear and announce "you got your shoes on your feet."  Still, the funny and clever tricks certainly outweigh the ones that seem a bit dumb.
 
Poker-Night Games and Other Card Playing Tricks: 
 
This disc, the longest in the series, contains a wealth of bets that you can't loose, if done properly.  A lot of them rely on mathematic principles that aren't obvious at first, while other involve a bit of trickery.  In addition to some card tricks Todd also give some tips on how to spot cheats.  While he doesn't teach people how to double deal or deal from the bottom of the deck, those techniques actually take a lot of practice, he illustrates how they work and what to watch for.
 


Many of these bets involve games other than poker.  So you have to convince the other player to switch games, which may be difficult.  My favorite variation that he demonstrates is a seemingly easy game for the mark to win, a hand of 5 card draw where each player just pulls the cards they want from the deck.  You'll even go first so that they know what hand they need to beat.  What could be easier than that??  For your hand, take out four tens and a king.  The mark will then select the best hand that they can, four aces with a king kicker.  But this is draw poker, so you then discard two of the tens, and make a straight flush 9-K with the cards in your hand.  The mark can't make a higher flush since you've discarded the 10 that they need and it's not in play.  A simple and elegant trick.
 
I also enjoyed the game of 'pencils' and played it with my wife and kids.  By the end they were rolling on the floor laughing.  This incredibly simple game has one player holding a pair of pencils in one hand and the bet in the other.  You then ask them a series of questions and if they answer anything but 'pencils' you can take the bet.   Explain the rules and then say "well start playing now.  Are you ready?"  When they answer "yes" take the cash.  Admit you caught them off guard and bet again, and proceed to ask them a series of easy questions to which they'll answer 'pencils'.  Then, acting impressed, say "you're really good, have you played this before?"  When they answer "no" take their money again.  If neither of those works, Todd has a final sure-fire way to get the cash too.
 
Workplace Pranks and Other Ways to Con Your Co-workers:
 
This was the only disc that didn't really work.  It's the weakest disc by far.  You can tell by the gags that Todd hasn't spent a lot of time in an office environment as a lot of the gags wouldn't really work, and most of them aren't really funny, but rather juvenile.  Most of these would just get your comrades pissed at you, and if think that you'll never be discovered, think again.
 


Some to the things that Todd suggests on this disc include that ancient gag of super-gluing a quarter to the floor near the vending machines,  add appointments to a coworkers planner, and putting Styrofoam peanuts in a bag and pass it off as "Japanese candy" to see who will eat them.  Does anyone think any of that would be amusing?
 
Interspersed are office dares that are pretty cute though.  Dare a coworker to page himself over the intercom without disguising his voice or to end each sentence with "mon" pronounced in a bad Jamaican accent.  Those are the funniest things on this disc. 
 
There's also some rather dumb "office speak" definitions that are fairly pedestrian.  For example:  A 'careful thinker' is 'someone who won't make up his mind', and 'expresses himself well' means 'speaks English' These are jokes that Fozie Bear would pass on.  
 
I was very surprised after the other two entertaining discs, but this one just falls flat.  Oh yeah, to add insult to injury there's also a web address to download a screensaver for a gag, but the page does not exist.
 
The DVD:

   
Audio:
 
The stereo soundtrack wasn't anything special but since this is an instructional video it didn't need impressive sound.  Since these were recorded in a bar, warehouse, and other places in which the audio isn't optimized the sound was a bit thin and tinny in places but it wasn't too bad.  Overall it was about average for this type of production.
 
Video:
 
This series looks like it was recorded on a digital video camera and so the picture wasn't a bit harsh, not warm like film.  The full frame image had a fair amount of aliasing present, but aside from that it looked fine for what it was.  Like the audio, it's an average presentation.
 
Extras:
 
Each disc has a text biography of Todd Robbins (but since he's an admitted con man I wonder if it is all true) and some extra gags and cons, some of which appear on the other discs.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
Two out of three ain't bad.  While the third segment doesn't work, the first two were very entertaining and cleaver, and well worth the price of the whole package.  People interested in cons and, bets you can't lose, and amusing tricks should definitely seek this set out.  Recommended.
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