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1 item from 1998

Film review: 'Palmetto'

13 February 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

A duplicitous blonde, a dumb guy and a lot of money at stake. These things can go a long way, especially if you steam them up in a Florida bedroom town. But "Palmetto" is no "Body Heat", merely a limp reincarnation of a sexy, noir thriller, and is likely to drop fast at the boxoffice for Castle Rock. With a fetching cast -- Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon -- it promises some sizzle, but its endless seascape and dreary compositions merely give us drizzle.

In this lust-boiler, Harrelson stars as Harry, a bitter reporter who has served hard time for exposing some graft in his corrupt little town. Harry's a victim and he's bitter about it, wants to get back at the powers that be. Vulnerable and broke, he's an easy mark, especially for a leggy blonde (Shue) with a fetching offer. It's simple enough and illegal -- make a phone call to Rhea's money-bags, terminally ill husband and say their daughter has been kidnapped and to bag up $500 grand. No deep thinker -- in fact, he's so incredibly dumb it's hard to fathom this dunderhead as an investigative reporter -- Harry agrees to do the deed. He's able to carry it off with only minor hitches and, still pissed about his incarceration, he's developed a hard set of situational morals that don't get in the way of his small thought processes.

Unlike his brainier generic predecessors -- most prominently, Fred MacMurray in "Double Indemnity" and William Hurt in "Body Heat" -- this guy does not see the ramifications of his actions, even on a simple crime level. He is such a stooge that any moral or emotional contradictions or misgivings don't even apply here, indicative of E. Max Frye's skimpy screenwriting. Even more woeful, "Palmetto" is riddled with plot contrivances, logical lapses and other inadequacies that turn us off.

Our disbelief, disinterest and ultimate distaste are further aggravated by the casting. As the hapless Harry, Harrelson's slow-moving performance only magnifies the knucklehead dimension of this guy and never taps his cerebral side. Part of the reason the Hurt character was so appealing in "Body Heat" was that his undoing came from personal flaws and cracks that emanated from positive traits in his character. No such richness here -- this guy is merely a shallow bonehead. Who cares? While Harrelson may be a very obvious choice to play such a chap, Shue as the bad blonde and Gershon as the steadfast girlfriend are not the obvious choices, and the against-the-grain casting simply doesn't work. We admit it's very creative, but again, it rattles the sensibilities -- just another goof in this off-kilter calamity. On the positive side, Chloe Sevigny is alluring and aptly unpredictable in a nymphette role.

Further enervating the production is Volker Schlondorff's dour, chilly direction. There is no heat in this stiff cinematic -- no overpowering lusts, no uncontrollable urges. The juices just don't flow on either a philosophical or sexual level, and they are further deadened by the grim technical contributions: cinematographer Thomas Kloss' dull palettes (dim greens, blues and browns) and composer Klaus Doldinger's dreary score make one think we are watching a film about Teutonic depression set in the North Sea, not sex and murder in Florida -- indicative of the film's overall botched chemistry.


Columbia Pictures

Castle Rock Entertainment

Producers: Matthias Wendlandt, Al Corley

Director: Volker Schlondorff

Screenwriter: E. Max Frye

Based on the novel "Just Another Sucker" by: James Hadley Chase

Executive producers: Al Corley, Bart Rosenblatt, Eugene Musso

Director of photography: Thomas Kloss

Editor: Peter Przygodda

Production designer: Claire Bowin

Costume designer: Terry Dresbach

Music: Klaus Doldinger



Harry Barber: Woody Harrelson

Nina: Gina Gershon

Rhea: Elisabeth Shue

Donnelly: Michael Rapaport

Renick: Tom Wright

Odette: Chloe Sevigny

Running time -- 112 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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