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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Palmetto

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue
Director: Volker Schlondroff
Rated: R
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: February 1998
Genres: Noir, Suspense

*Also starring: Gina Gershon, Tom Wright, Michael Rapaport, Chloe Sevigny, Laird Stuart, Angela Featherstone

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

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 well.

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 audience suspects.

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

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