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Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Movie review by
Elliot Panek, Common Sense Media
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels Movie Poster Image
Martin and Caine scam women in sly '80s comedy.
  • PG
  • 1988
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages, though you can argue that it teaches a lesson about the dangers of overconfidence.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters suffer no lasting consequences for their iffy behavior, which includes frequently manipulating and deceiving others. One character mines laughs out of pretending to be mentally challenged.


A character pretending to be a doctor lashes another character who's pretending to be disabled several times in the legs and feet to see if he can "feel anything." Sailors threaten physical violence to one of the lead characters. A character feigns despair and mentions having had suicidal feelings/thoughts (all part of the pretense); he also fakes a wheelchair accident.


Flirting/romancing. One reference to "making love." A made-up sob story includes a tale of discovering a spouse cheating. A woman uses her attractiveness/the promise of an embrace to encourage a supposedly disabled man to stand and walk to her. A lead character is threatened with being put in a "genital cuff." A man tells of his clothes being stolen while he was in the shower, leaving him naked.


Infrequent profanity includes "s--t," "a--hole," "ass." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink cocktails, wine, and champagne. Cigarette smoking. One of the lead characters is shown drunk in a hotel room with several drunk sailors and their female friends. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a 1988 comedy in which Steve Martin and Michael Caine play dueling con men competing to swindle an American heiress. During another con, Martin mines laughs out of pretending to be mentally challenged: soiling his pants at the dinner table rather than going to the bathroom, breaking objects during pretend temper tantrums, and running around yelling until he's threatened with a "genital cuff." Later, Martin's character pretends to be physically disabled and fakes an accident as he pretends to roll out of control down a set of rocky outdoor steps. There's some drinking -- Martin's character gets drunk with a group of sailors and their girlfriends -- and some cigarette smoking. Viewers hear a reference to "making love" and talk of how Martin's character found his "wife" in bed with another man. Infrequent profanity includes "s--t," "a--hole," and "ass." 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 and 14 year old Written bylioness57 April 9, 2008

Funny slapstick but mocks both disabled and mentally challenged people

I rented this movie to watch with my 12 year old daughter, 7 year old son and husband then checked out the Common Sense review. Despite the 15+ rating my husba... Continue reading
Adult Written byShadowslayer November 28, 2014

Scamming the Scammers

This movie is quite the unique movie! With Steve Martin and Micheal Caine - they show the "unnatural" positivism of scamming the rich and giving to th... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 16, 2011

very entertaining

great movie but the entire movie is about lying stealing money and trying to make money off of rich women but very entertaining
Teen, 13 years old Written byxotitanicox May 4, 2009

Funny movie

I liked it, I didn't think there was anything especially spectacular, but it was enjoyable enough.

What's the story?

In DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS, Steve Martin and Michael Caine compete in a battle of sleazy shysters who make their money by conning rich, vulnerable women. When boorish American Freddy Benson (Martin) homes in on debonair European Lawrence Jamieson's (Caine) territory, Jamieson offers to become Benson's tutor. Benson bristles at Jamieson's attempt to condition him, and eventually the two agree to a not-so-friendly competition to bilk a young heiress (Glenne Headly) out of her fortune.

Is it any good?

This sly film is fairly entertaining, but Martin and Caine never establish the chemistry of a great comedy team, and the gags tend to get repetitive. If the film has anything going for it, it's the unpredictability of the game of courtship between two men and one woman. 

The difference between European cultural pretension and American crassness is at the center of the comedy. The film is a role reversal of sorts, with men fleecing women who've presumably come upon their fortunes by marrying doddering millionaires. It's enjoyable to watch Caine pretend to be a psychologist, and Martin is as animated as ever, faking paralysis only to dance for joy in the following scene. The story turns into a standard wager plot, with the real winner discovering his scruples just in time to save his soul. Needless to say, the swindlers get their comeuppance, the scammers become the scammed, and the story ends with yet another hoax in the offing.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' style of humor. How does this movie mine laughs out of iffy behavior? Is that OK?

  • How might those who are or have close friends or family members who are mentally or physically disabled feel about the scenes in which Martin feigns those conditions? Do you think the movie is making fun of mentally or physically challenged people, or is the comedy more rooted in the lengths to which these characters will go to steal from their unwitting victims? 

  • How do the lead characters rationalize what they do? Does that make it OK? Why or why not?

Movie details

For kids who love to laugh

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