Think ''Paper Moon'' meets ''Monk,'' with Nicolas Cage as a con-man daddy who's also a tic-ridden man-child in need of emotional healing. He plays Roy, an obsessive-compulsive who likes to keep his life as tidy and low-key as his small-time scams. Elements of disorder -- anybody wearing shoes on the carpet in his minimalist-chic L.A. house, say -- freak him out. More important, as Cage describes it, ''It's a condition where you can't get out of a loop, where you're constantly going through these rituals throughout the day. It can get very debilitating.'' Example? ''When [Roy] opens and closes doors, that's a sensitive area for him.''
But then a great big door onto Roy's past blows right off. His 14-year-old daughter, whom he has never seen (23-year-old ''White Oleander'' star Alison Lohman), shows up just about the same time his longtime grifting partner (''Confessions of a Dangerous Mind'''s Sam Rockwell) pushes him into attempting a much bigger swindle than usual. As everyone's neuroses and psychoses simmer (per a script cowritten by ''Ocean's Eleven'''s Ted Griffin), expect lots of actorly bravado -- though Rockwell insists that he's the least of the triumvirate. ''I'm pretty much the comic-relief sidekick,'' he says. ''It's Nic and Alison's movie, really. They have a lot of intimate scenes.''
So what's an epic-minded director like Ridley Scott (''Gladiator,'' ''Black Hawk Down'') doing in charge of a seriocomic character piece like this? Aside from harking back to his early-'90s lady-buddy flick ''Thelma & Louise,'' he's basically having a lark while gearing up for ''Tripoli,'' his lavish historical spectacle with Russell Crowe. In Rockwell's estimation, Scott is ''like a master chef. But it was really fun for him to just make some scrambled eggs.''
Cage, too, appreciated the steady hand. ''There are many talented directors who are younger who tend to overdirect or fix things that aren't broken,'' he says. ''Whereas Ridley can capture everything he's looking for with very few words and without many takes.''