As writer, newspaper man, and recently freed ex-con Harry Barber,
Woody Harrelson is in a heap of trouble. All hell is breaking loose,
and he's long sense lost control of the situation.
It all started when an incredibly sexy, married woman named Rhea
Malroux, played by a perfectly cast Elisabeth Shue from LEAVING LAS
VEGAS, started coming on to him in a bar. She wanted him to meet her
to discuss a job with a certain element of risk involved. And she
didn't just say it, she almost panted it. Wearing a tight, low-cut
pastel sweater, she was not a woman you'd want to refuse. ("I'm just a
girl with a little ambition," she tells him later. Watch out for
people with such false modesty.)
When Rhea met him at his rented bungalow by the beach, she
explained her foolproof plan. Her stepdaughter Odette, played by Chloe
Sevigny from KIDS, was to be kidnapped. Well not exactly. They were
just going to say she was being kidnapped. All they needed Harry to do
was type a note, make a threatening phone call to her sick husband, and
collect the $500,000 ransom. Harry would get a $50,000 cut. Her
husband would never involve the police so there was no element of risk.
But, as the press notes aptly say, "nothing is 'that' easy."
Set in the bright Florida sun, PALMETTO may not look like a film
noir, but it is firmly routed in that genre.
Frequent thunder without rain means the characters sweat profusely
in the thick humidity. And as in BODY HEAT, the mixture of humidity
and tensions causes sex to break out on the set. When Rhea meets Harry
in his cabin, he doesn't trust her, so he frisks her to see if this is
a setup and whether she is wearing a wire. They both get so involved
in the examination that it turns into a very hot sex scene. Similarly
when her stepdaughter drops by another day, she's like a cat in heat as
The story asks the traditional questions of "Who is conning whom?"
and "Who is for real?" Although several of the plot elements are easy
to predict, many aren't. One of the best small twists occurs when
Harry is first brought in by the police after they find out about the
kidnapping. This confrontation does not go at all as Harry or the
The excellent actor Woody Harrelson gives a surprisingly
self-controlled and almost pensive performance. His vulnerable
character increasing loses it, and every time he thinks he's ahead of
the game, he isn't. ("I was in it right up to my ears, and no idea how
I was going to get myself out.") Woody takes a more subtle approach to
the role that he typically has to others. The result is a character
who seems quite genuine. Further grounding the story in reality, Gina
Gershon gives a rock solid performance as his blowtorch wielding,
sculptor girlfriend with whom he lives.
"I tried writing but nothing comes out," Harry tells us in
voice-over. "There's nothing worse than a writer who has nothing to
say." Well screenwriter E. Max Frye's adaptation of James Hadley
Chase's novel, "Just Another Sucker," has a lot to say. Although
little of it breaks any new ground, the movie by German director Volker
Schlondorff thoroughly entertains. You won't feel cheated like Harry.
And you'll get your money's worth as the twists and surprises
accelerate as the movie races to its conclusion.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes