A number of years ago, after sitting in horrified witness to Jerry Bruckheimer’s big screen defecation, Armageddon, I swore off bad movies forever. And I must say, I did a damn good job of it too. I avoided Batman and Robin, Godzilla, Battlefield Earth; all the major stinkers.
But occasionally a bad one gets through and usually this is because it is a movie not generally reviled by all who see it. That’s where I put my foot down.
Admittedly, an 8-year-old rental isn’t the biggest grievance in the world but it’s a start and the positive criticism lavished on this film is just sickening.
The Spanish Prisoner
If the ‘Uncanny Valley’ is the realm of computer graphics that are just close enough to reality to create a sensation of unnatural revulsion (like the idea of sex with a retard), then the ‘Mamet Valley’ is the realm of dialog that is just close enough to natural speech to cause the same sense of revulsion.
Never before have I seen such audacity in a writer/director. For over two glorious hours David Mamet (the source of such previous screenwriting insults as Wag the Dog, Hannibal, and Ronin) is in top form ceaselessly flaunting his stilted dialog in our face; the viewer is like a captive at the hands of a sadist with a shit-covered rag; there is no respite from his constant prodding.
Steve Martin appears to be the only actor in this movie willing or capable of twisting his lines into the realm of acceptability. I say ‘willing’ because I suspect that through a feat of pure megalomania, Mamet held his unwarranted clout over his less decorated actors such that he could coerce them into certain career suicide with his credibility-killing lines. I will have to except Rebecca Pidgeon from this assumption (the darling female lead) because she probably underwent her debasement voluntarily, considering the fact that she is David Mamet’s wife. Of course we all know what a rare treat it is when the director casts the woman he is fucking in a lead role as this invariably produces the paragon of cinematic performance.
Don’t watch the Spanish Prisoner. If you’re smart enough to understand the convoluted plot you’re also smart enough to find the dialog insulting to your intelligence. If you’re complacent enough that you find the dialogue acceptable, you either left to sniff glue or simply fell asleep some time before the conclusion of the first hour, by which time the sum total of nothing interesting had occurred to drive along the plot.
If I’m too late and you’ve already watched the movie, do yourself a favor and re-watch the final scene where the US marshal delivers his last lines. Listen to them a few times. If you’re creative you might be able to ascribe some meaning to what he is trying to say and you might even deduce that Mamet is attempting to squeeze one final, 180 degree plot reversal in before the credits roll. And he would have gotten away with it too, were he not a consummate fuck so caught up with himself that he forgot someone else actually has to watch his movie.