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Awesome: 8%
Worth A Look80%
Just Average: 4%
Pretty Crappy: 8%
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3 reviews, 7 user ratings

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10 Items or Less
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Paper, Plastic Or Paz?"
4 stars

You are always hearing actors and directors talking about how they want to step away from the blockbuster projects they are always making in order to do a smaller and more personal project. Of course, such projects rarely make it past the idle speculation stage (nearly three decades on, we are still waiting for those arty experimental films that George Lucas claimed he would be directing in the wake of “Star Wars”) because while such thoughts are nice and noble in theory, the actuality of a fat paycheck almost always winds up taking precedence. With the new comedy “10 Items Or Less,” writer-director Brad Silberling, whose previous outings have included such mammoth undertakings as “Casper” and “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and Morgan Freeman have actually dared to go the low-budget route with a simple exercise in no-frills filmmaking and have come up with a low-key charmer as winning, if not more so, than many of their more elaborate efforts.

Freeman plays an unnamed actor of some fame, at least partially inspired on himself, who is contemplating ending a four-year hiatus from the screen by taking a role as a supermarket manager in a low-budget independent film. In order to “research” his part, he decides to visit a small grocery store in a low-rent L.A. suburb so that he can study what such a person does during the day. The trip is a bust–the manager isn’t even around, there are hardly any customers and the only person in the entire store who actually seems to work is Scarlet (Paz Vega), the spirited young woman manning the 10 items or less land, a position she describes as being “where checkers come to die.” Alas, the actor discovers that he has been stranded at the store with no way to get home–the P.A. driving him has disappeared, his agents and managers have all left for the day, he is carrying no cash and he doesn’t even know his own home phone number–and he begs Scarlet to give him a ride home. She agrees but tells him that she has an appointment to keep first. When he discovers that it is an interview for an office manager position, he looks upon it as another form of an audition and uses his skills to get her prepared.

What passes for plot development here comes from the various detours that the two make along the way to Scarlet’s job interview. They stop at the trailer belonging to Scarlet’s soon-to-be-ex-husband and current boss (Bobby Cannavale) so that she can reclaim her car and prove to the ex and his new squeeze that she is no pushover. They hit the local Target so that Scarlet can pick up a new blouse while the actor marvels at the wonders to be had at a place that is utterly unfamiliar to him. They take time out to get Scarlet’s AMC Gremlin washed and fuel up at an Arby’s, where the actor’s attempts to avoid ordering the roast beef, as sensible as they may be, are sadly rebuffed. They sit around and talk about their lives and what led them to the places where they currently are and at the end of the long day, they are faced with the realization that while their meeting has been mutually beneficial to both of them and their immediate futures, the inescapable divide between their respective lives makes it unlikely that they will ever meet up again.

Even at just over 80 minutes, this is a fairly slight premise for a film and one whose success is almost totally dependent on the chemistry between the two leads. In this case, Silberling has lucked out because the pairing of Freeman and Vega is an inspired one indeed. Clearly having a blast at playing a role in a film where he doesn’t have to represent the voice of sage wisdom and authority, Freeman instead offers up a sly parody of both pampered movie stars in general (who don’t seem to realize that their mere presence will most likely skew anything that could possibly be learned by their so-called “research”) and his own persona in particular (there is an especially inspired running gag involving a series of anonymous big-budget thrillers that he did with Ashley Judd that seem to be selling at a deep discount wherever he goes) that still manages to dovetail effortlessly into his more noble and sincere efforts to help guide Scarlet through her upcoming job interview–you actually buy that his character would really do such a thing for a virtual stranger. Paz Vega may be a relative unknown to most of you, unless you happened to catch her sizzling Spanish breakthrough film “Sex and Lucia” or her comparatively less exciting turn as Adam Sandler’s inspirational housekeeper in “Spanglish,” but she more than holds her own opposite Freeman throughout. The role may sound like a cliche–yet another sexy and soulful Spanish spitfire–but she also turns a potential cliche into a full-bodied character with a performance that should serve as an indication to viewers that she is more than just a considerably pretty face. Together, they make a wonderful on-screen duo and even manage to find a true and real manner in which to negotiate the tricky final scenes in which their oddly defining day must come to an end.

As you might expect from a film of this nature, “10 Items or Less” is a slight film and even at a mere 82 minutes, it requires long sequences involving kibbitzing car-wash workers, Freeman and Vega each teaching the other a song and an extended driving montage set to a Paul Simon tune to pad things out. Others may complain that nothing particularly earth-shattering happens and that it ends on a quieter and more ambiguous note than most films. Personally, I prefer to see these things as virtues rather than flaws. We are in a season where nearly every film contains profoundly important events, easily graspable themes and ending in which people come to terms with things at just the right moment. By comparison, this film just wants to be a small-scale comedy-drama that takes its cues from the odd rhythms of real life and it is all the better for it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14987&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/01/06 01:03:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/18/19 Ronald The wife and I both liked it, which does not happen very often. 4 stars
6/05/10 d.stern A truely conscious, the vanguard of a new possiblity in filmmaking 5 stars
5/31/10 User Name An appealing cast, but the script plays it too safe to be substancial. 3 stars
1/24/09 TreeTiger Whenever a review starts with SCREENED AT THE...FILM FESTIVAL - you know it sucks balls... 2 stars
8/17/08 Valentina N. A candid and funny movie, drowned in a warm, liquid light. I loved the cinematography. 4 stars
7/02/07 W.S. Blevins Boring....painfully boring. 2 stars
5/28/07 Cynthia L Peretti I really like the movie & the music 5 stars
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  01-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 24-Apr-2007



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