A muddle from start to finish, it traps its actors in a terrible script and reduces them to sputtering.

PALMETTO

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Palmetto" strikes out, and it doesn't even go down swinging. A muddle from start to finish, it traps its actors in a terrible script and reduces them to sputtering. It's hard to blame the players when the vehicle is so weak, but even when they get the chance, they act so badly that bewilderment spreads through the silent audience. Who, for the Lord's sweet sake, puts up money for the likes of this?

Reporter Harry Barber (Woody Harrelson) has spent two years of his life in jail-framed for exposing corruption in the town of Palmetto. Within moments of his release, as he is schlepping his duffel down the road, people from his past just happen by, most notably, old girlfriend Nina (Gina Gershon). If this roadside coincidence is metaphorical, it eludes me; if it is contrivance, it is embarrassing.

As the honest reporter is casting about for a way to support himself, he meets Rhea Malroux (Elisabeth Shue), the trophy wife of rich old Felix Malroux (Rolf Hoppe). Rhea, staging the kidnapping of Felix's daughter, Odette (Chloe Sevigny), asks Harry to make the ransom call in return for a quick $50,000. Harry's bitterness overwhelms his honor in about thirty seconds.

The movie attempts to disguise its emptiness with a sense of place by slathering the actors with sweat and the screen with unrelenting rainfall. The team in charge of atmosphere is telling us this is a dark, gritty, tough place. These filmmakers think they are making one of those marvelous old movies set in the tropics, where the atmosphere and people steam with heat. But no one here has the remotest understanding of Stanwick, Bacall, or Bogart; nor do they understand the sultry depths of three-dimensional evil.

Elisabeth Shue's attempt to be the wicked temptress is a little like Donna Reed playing Cleopatra. Woody Harrelson, coming off a line of finely tuned and effective performances, is a woeful sight. Stranded without tools for acting his way out of this paper bag, he stands slack-jawed while people ask him questions like "What's going on, Harry?" Or, more perceptively, "What's in the briefcase, Harry?"

Don't waste a minute wondering why Harry opens his car trunk, leaving the stashed body in a state of general visibility; don't ask why a writer can make Harrelson say, "We've gotta get rid of the body," and compound it by having Nina reply, "What do we do now?"

An even more grievous insult awaits us: an outrageously inept performance by Michael Rapaport as Donnelly, the guy hired to get rid of the body. Donnelly pours a canister of acid over the victim he has placed neatly in a convenient vat in Harry's suburban garage.

If you sit through this one, you may be lucky enough to see Harry suspended on a hook over the acid vat. The beleaguered fellow observes, "I was hoping the rain was going to wash away the whole dirty business." He got that right.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Castle Rock
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h54m


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