Monday, March 22, 2004

Spartan (Mamet) B-

In case you haven't heard, David Mamet's kind of paranoid. Everyone's playing an angle, and if you're not careful, you're bound to get it in the back. His worldview is a natural for the spy thriller, the genre of double and triple crosses. But Mamet's like the poker player who's always bluffing; when he shows his hand the only real surprise is if he's raising with a J5 suited or a 72 unsuited.

The first half of SPARTAN is compulsively watchable, as tight and taut as anything Mamet or anyone else has ever done. But as with HEIST and THE SPANISH PRISONER, the plotting becomes increasingly ridiculous as the hand is revealed, with the film relying on ever-more-absurd coincidences and 'Winstons' (plant & payoffs) that whiz by so quickly that their absurdity doesn't become apparent until (or unless) one starts to reflect on them.
Derek Luke finds the "Girl's" earring stuck to his bag? He locates Val Kilmer from the nametag of a chain, even though Kilmer's been established as a hyper-alert superagent? Said superagent finds GPS bugs in his phone, yet doesn't search his gun for the same bug? Most ridiculous of all, the old woman who holds up Kilmer is first secret service then immediately turns out to be the Girl's nanny? Get real.

Normally I wouldn't be such a stickler for superior plotting, but Mamet's recent minimalist thrillers, which deliberately reduce characters to cyphers, eliminate motivation and offer nothing but trite thematic variations on "Trust No One", give you nothing to latch on to but plot and Mametese (which I *am* a sucker for). Except for a bit of self-parody, SPARTAN's regrettably short on the latter (which Kilmer can't get down anyway). Typical line: "Where is the girl? Where *is* the girl? Where is *the* girl? *Where* is the girl? Where is the *girl*?" Sorry Dave, maybe if it made a little more sense, I might've cared more.