Film Commentary [4-21-99]
Con Game - - The Spainish Prisoner
Genre: drama/mystery

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott), is a mathematician who has developed a complex "Process" with a huge potential for making money. We never learn what the process is, it is the classic mystery McGuffin. He works for Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara), and is flown to a meeting in the Caribbean to discuss the Process with potential buyers. Also on hand is George, a company lawyer and his best friend played by Ricky Jay, and Susan (Rebecca Pigeon)a secretary who recently joined the company and who makes a series of blatant plays for Ross’ attention.

Arriving on the scene is Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin in his best performance Grand Canyon), who may or may not have arrived by seaplane. Joe thinks the man arrived by seaplane, Susan does not believe so, and provides photographic proof, which actually proves nothing. In the end it doesn’t matter: the episode is used simply to suggest that Jimmy Dell may not be in reality what he seems to be.

But, that's just the beginning. The film continues with a labyrinth of shady characters, plot twists and reversals, where anything can happen. The Spanish Prisoner tells the familiar story of a young man who suddenly gets suckered by a lot of smarter people who land this poor guy in a lot of trouble, up to and including framing him for murder. The movie does not take place in Spain and has no prisoners- the title refers to a classic con game.

Director David Mamet who is famous for writing films which possess very smart dialogue. Glengarry Glen Ross and Wag The Dog are examples of the skill Mamet has with screen plays. Now comes Mamet's latest offering which he also directs and from the advertisements and reviews I've read, it is suppose to be a razor sharp, clever and icy thriller. Maybe those reviewers saw a different film because what I saw was definitely not that sharp, clever or thrilling. The dialog is weak and delivered in a deadpan manner by the main characters who sound like they are doing manditory reading in an eighth grade classroom. They consistently say some of the most stupidest and obvious lines and then actually repeat the lines over again. The plot is derivative of most of Hitchcock's films. The only redemming feature is Steve Martin's performance as the slimy con artist.

Grade = B-

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