The Spanish Prisoner

Bomb Rating: 

If this movie makes one thing clear, it's that David Mamet's time would have been better spent writing warning labels or composing the nutritional information on the side of packaged food. Rarely does David Mamet's writing do anything more than make the audience acutely aware that David Mamet wrote it.

The first thing his writing does not do in this movie is develop emotional relationships between characters. It's supposed to be a puzzle movie that raises the mystery of what happens to Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) after he goes down to the islands with his assistant, Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon), and runs into a mysterious man, Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), who has him bring a book back to New York.

These characters interact as though they were reading directions off a bottle of bleach. Joe is supposed to be naive. Everybody else is supposed to be cold and calculating. As to the calculating, Mamet's writing does nothing to elaborate upon that either. Joe has invented some "process." Rebecca comes on to Joe by repeatedly telling him he's a "nice man." It's like dialogue from the soap opera of the dead.

Essentially, Mamet has put the audience in the position of Joe: We're assumed to be naive idiots too. If you don't believe me, watch for a scene in an airplane boarding line toward the end of the movie. A kid drops a book and Mamet all but spells out something to Joe and to the audience -- something any person with a functioning lobe or two has been well aware of for over an hour. Like the rest of the film, it's yet more evidence that David Mamet writes movies because he can, not because he's the least bit good at it.

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