Volume 91, Issue 81

Wednesday, March 4, 1998



Sex and Shue can't save Palmetto

By Christina Vardanis
Gazette Staff

Ever since Sharon Stone brought new meaning to the word 'interrogation,' there has been a revival of the femme fatale genre bumping and grinding its way into mainstream success.

And why not? Sex, greed and corruption make for a great evening out. Volker Schlondorff's latest film, Palmetto, is a fierce mixture of deception, kidnapping, false identities, acid baths, cops turned bad and, of course, lots of sex. A combination like this should amount to a night worth cinematic dollars, but Palmetto is a lame attempt at black comedy which steers an otherwise strong story into disaster and takes all of its talent along for the ride.

Woody Harrelson plays Harry Barber, an innocent writer framed and jailed for exposing a local government scam. After his release, he is determined to leave the corrupt town of Palmetto and begin a new life. Enter Rhea Malroux, played by a Wonderbra-ed and stilletto-ed Elisabeth Shue. With a couple of winks and a lot more shakes, she entices Harry into a plan involving the fake kidnapping of her step-daughter for some fast ransom cash. Needless to say, the plan is slightly more complicated than she leads him to believe.

It's the classic set up: an innocent man, a sexy villainess, an old man too rich to move and the opportunity for the perfect crime, all set in a town so hot even the fish are sweating. It's this typical sexual thriller recipe that Schlondorff attempts to mock.

However, if this movie is in fact a satire, nobody was told except Shue. Her sultry cat-like moves and overdone sexual antics are hilarious, but are the only cues to the movie's satiric intentions. Harrelson is believable as Barber, but the character is not given the opportunity to develop and quickly fades behind Shue's performance.

Schlondorff creates Palmetto to be an isolated space where appearances are paramount and nothing is what it seems – a Florida Keys version of the Bates Motel. But supporting roles of Barber's girlfriend Nina (Gina Gershon) and ex-cop-turned-body-guard Donnelly (Michael Rapaport) are too normal to fit into this setting and add nothing to the parody. Without another character to play off of, Shue's "come hither" efforts appear to be out of place. The result is confusion on the part of the viewer as to how to react to the film overall.

The most disappointing thing about this movie is its obvious potential that is simply missed. The plot, based on the James Hadley Chase's novel Just Another Sucker, has plenty of twists and turns that pay homage to the old Hitchcock mysteries and remains unsolvable until the very end. A cast with such blatant talent for character acting (Harrelson's run as the dim bartender Woody on Cheers and Gershon's stint as the murdering lesbian in Bound) is wasted, all because Schlondorff got greedy.

Palmetto tries for the best of the parody, suspense and sexual thriller genres and ends up floating in movie limbo. It's best to let this one drift by.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998