Bryce (Josh Brolin) is a successful man who returns to his tiny hometown for a visit. While there, he runs into his old friend Nick (Alessandro Nivola). The two decide to go out for the night. When they enter a bar, Bryce encounters Kathy (Reese Witherspoon), a blonde temptress whom he eventually takes home for the night. When he awakens, Kathy informs him that she is underage and threatens to tell the police that Bryce has committed statutory rape. Bryce panics and decides to tie her up and hide her away in the basement. He then makes a call to Nick. Unbeknownst to Bryce, Kathy is actually Nick's girlfriend Lissa. The two had schemed to use Bryce's money to pay off a $15,000 debt they owe small-time hood Jimmy (Terrence Howard). Written by
Screenwriter Ted Griffin takes a page out of the David Mamet book with this story of the things we do for love and money, and how desperation has a way of leading even the most forthright among us into regions beyond the known. And the fact that there is no such animal as a sure thing is pointedly expressed in `Best Laid Plans,' a drama/thriller directed by Mike Barker, and starring Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola.
The film begins with a meeting in a bar between Nick (Nivola) and Bryce (Josh Brolin), old college chums who have not seen one another since graduation. Over a few rounds of drinks, they get reacquainted; Bryce is back in town to teach, while Nick has secured employment at the local recycling establishment. They do the good-to-see-you-again thing, and Nick leaves. But at about two o'clock in the morning, he gets a call from Bryce, who begs him to come over to his house (actually one he's watching for some friends who are out of town). Nick doesn't want to go, but Bryce sounds desperate and he can't refuse. What he finds when he gets there is something totally out of left field. Suffice to say, it involves a young woman named Lissa (Witherspoon), whom Bryce picked up in the bar just as Nick was leaving. It's not a pretty situation, and Bryce doesn't know what to do; so it falls to Nick to figure it out. And now, having crossed that proverbial line in the sand, Nick's involved, too. Or so it seems. But then again, maybe there's more to this than meets the eye. There's just something about this whole set-up that instinctively tells you that what appears to be, ain't necessarily so. The question is, what is it-- and who is doing what to whom exactly?
Barker has fashioned a fairly involving film from a story that initially seems somewhat convoluted, but which evolves, and later can actually be regarded as having a plot that is quite intricate and credible, making the comparison to Mamet entirely valid. The difference between this film and one of Mamet's, however, lies in the fact that Barker simply doesn't have that Mamet touch when it comes to presenting the material. He does a decent job, but lacks the finesse, the eye for detail and the grasp of what it takes to achieve that necessary sense of mystery that could have taken it to a much higher level. It lacks that sense of fear and menace, and the urgency it needed to be really effective. Barker does manage to give you enough to sustain interest, but his pace is wanting; there are moments when the pulse of his film simply flatlines.
Nivola is clearly the star of the show, and his performance is passable, but he lacks that extra something, that quality, that would have made his character anything special or memorable. Nick is believable, but too common; there's simply nothing distinctive enough about him to make you care much what happens to him one way or the other. On one hand, it's good acting-- the character is real-- but he's a guy who leaves you fairly nonplused; he needs a hangnail, as it were, a flaw that would have at least made him interesting.
Witherspoon gives a good performance, but this character is certainly not a stretch for her, by any means. Lissa, like Nick, is rather nondescript, and Witherspoon does little to spark much interest in her. In her defense, however, Barker really doesn't afford her the time nor the opportunity to do much exploring by way of characterization. But she is watchable, and fans of hers, especially, will no doubt find her work here satisfying.
As Bryce, Josh Brolin is disappointing, giving a one-note performance that is flat and forced. Granted, his character is supposed to be something of a nerd, but he puts nothing into it; a bit of nuance would have done wonders for his portrayal, and it's the kind of character that is ripe with opportunity, like a blank canvas just waiting to be shaded and textured. But Brolin dropped the ball, and Bryce ends up being completely forgettable.
The supporting cast includes Gene Wolande (Lawyer), Jonathan McMurtry (Vet), Rocky Carroll (Bad Dude), Jamie Marsh (Barry), Michael McCleery (Recycling Owner), Michael G. Hagerty (Charlie), Terrence Dashon Howard (Jimmy) and Sean Nepita (Freddie). A very average movie, but with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, `Best Laid Plans' nevertheless comes off as inexplicably lackluster, given the storyline. This one had the potential of being a real edge-of-your-seater, but instead fails to stir the blood much at all. Performances aside, the story alone makes it worth a look; just don't expect too much. It takes some effort to get into it initially, and by the end you'll be reflecting on what a great movie this `almost' was. I rate this one 6/10.
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