THE SPANISH PRISONER
And that's where this film goes wrong. An intriguing whodunit about murder
and computer software, The Spanish Prisoner fails because for the
most part, its actors aren't up to the task, and Mamet is unable to educate
Campbell Scott plays Joe Ross, the designer of a new computer process
that will make millions for his company. His new assistant, Susan Ricci
(Rebecca Pidgeon), is helpful and attractive (and even admits to having
a crush on him), but Joe feels that his wealthy bosses aren't being upfront
about his compensation for designing the process. He meets a friendly tycoon
named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) who offers to hook Joe up with an excellent
attorney (Ben Gazzara) to check out the situation. But Dell's methods prove
suspect, so Joe calls an FBI agent he met on a business trip.
Before Joe knows it, the only copy of the process is missing, his company's
attorney is dead, and he is the prime suspect for the murder. In a very
exciting cat-and-mouse game, Joe must depend on Susan to help him prove
his innocence and recover his stolen property.
Not surprisingly, Steve Martin is the best actor in this movie. Perhaps
his experience as a comedian (i.e., working with words) prepared him better
for dealing with Mamet's script. Scott is rather wooden, but attempts to
hold his own; Pidgeon is lost. She is obviously talented, but out of her
league here. Rather than using Mamet's language, she attempts to
ignore it to pass it off as everyday banter. The result is that her
acting is undermined; she looks like a hack, and makes Mamet look bad, too.
What is surprising is that Mamet, as director, failed to help her.
There are scenes in Glengarry Glen Ross between Ed Harris and Alan Arkin, or Jack Lemmon and Al Pacino, or any other combination you want to mention, where the brilliance of Mamet's script is made crystal clear; after the audience gets used to it, the writing style is as much a presence as any of the characters. Here, thanks to Pidgeon, Scott, and others, it just looks like bad writing and/or directing. This is unfortunate because dialogue aside, it's a fascinating story. **½
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