Spartan (3/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Don’t get me wrong; writer/director David Mamet has some talent (Wag The Dog, The Untouchables, The Edge). But he’s also got some turkeys (The Spanish Prisoner, which he couldn’t figure out how to end, We’re No Angels). Spartan finds him in his turkey mode.

Too call it ludicrous would be to give it far too much credit. Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is a sociopathic, what, soldier of fortune? It looks like he’s in the United States military. It looks like he’s an officer because underlings call him “sir.” But neither is the case. He’s apparently a “sergeant” in something, clearly not the U.S. Military, although that’s what Mamet would have you believe. I guess Mamet’s never been in the military or he would know that the last thing an enlisted person would do would be to call a non commissioned officer “sir.”

Scott kills in cold blood according to orders with no hesitation and no remorse. And he’s Mamet’s idea of a protagonist!

The President’s daughter has been kidnapped and Scott is called in to help find her but what he finds instead is that the President is a lecher and doesn’t care about his daughter and when she disappears the President’s people fake her death so it won’t mess up his Presidential re-election campaign. When he finds out she’s alive he sends out a hit team to terminate her. Scott somehow gets a conscience and tries to save her.

If you’re wondering about Mamet’s political persuasion, guess what the President’s daughter’s name is? Give up? Does the name “Laura” ring a bell?

How vapid is Mamet? Well, as far as I’m concerned, any moviemaker who inserts gratuitous smoking scenes in his films is terminally destructive. In the old days the tobacco companies paid studios to promote smoking. Remember Paul Henreid lighting two cigarettes, one for him and one for Bette Davis, in Now, Voyager (1942)? What kind of fool wants to promote smoking, given all the horrors it wreaks on our bodies? Yet, promote smoking is exactly what Mamet does at the end of this film as he has Scott roll a cigarette for Laura, which is the one thing she wants as she’s rescued from a life of servitude as a prostitute. Shades of Sean Penn and John Travolta who generally insist on smoking scenes in their films!

Not only is the story ludicrous, there just isn’t anybody in the film you instinctively like and root for, although Mamet is trying to get you to root for Scott. When Scott does finally find Laura Newton (Kristen Bell), she’s a spaced-out druggee because her mother and father never loved her and didn’t care about her, boohoo, so she apparently wants to stay in Dubai as a prostitute.

Scott’s implausible transformation from a sociopath with no feelings other than to follow orders into someone who cares for this girl he’s never met is consistent with Mamet’s inability to concoct believable endings and congruous characters.

Despite Mamet’s inability to come up with a logical ending in The Spanish Prisoner, and his use of the “f” word 7, 237 times in a single play, Glengarry Glen Ross, (OK, that’s an estimate), he really does have some writing ability. Because of his talent as a dramatist, however incomplete, this thing does flow and keep your interest.

Notwithstanding, I give it a low rating because of its cold-blooded, unemotional violence, and its shameful, petulant, virulent, hate-the-American-government attitude.

March 9, 2004


The End