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Freeman: Ring up potential at different aisle than one for 10 Items or Less

Starrring Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega, Kumar Pallana, Jonah Hill; written and directed by Brad Silberling
Promotional poster: Clickstar, Revelations, Mockingbird Pictures studios

10 Items or Less

Rating:
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OK, so let's start with the name alone. That scratch-fingernails-down-a-chalkboard-if-you're-an-English-teacher-like-I-am phrase we've all seen at the supermarket: 10 items or less. The grammatically correct way to say such a designation is "Ten items or fewer." It's a mass noun vs. count noun thing that most of us mix up as most of us are not fastidiously pedantic English snobs like I am. Anyway, the fact that the film chose this household term -- 10 items or less -- as the title is apt, because the film is just off.

It's not a ridiculous piece of crap with zero redemptive aspects but it just totally got so many things wrong -- like why in the world the writer wrote it and the producer produced it and the director directed- OK, you get my drift.

But I'm not entirely joking. I only kept watching to hold out for some eventual kicker that made it all worthwhile, or coalescent, or valorized with an impact worthy of Morgan Freeman's starring role.

Now let's jump to Mr. Freeman. Morgan Freeman is among the pantheon of talented and nearly venerated actors, with a deserving Academy Award (for his supporting role in Million Dollar Baby), several more nominations, and a Golden Globe to go with his Screen Actors Guild award. I hands-down applaud his acting and he generally puts in a 5 star performance, whether as the quietly sagacious inveterate inmate in Shawshank Redemption or a plethora of badass roles in The Electric Company.

And it's not that his acting stank up the place in 10 Items or Less. (Ugh, I keep originally typing an "f" to end with "fewer" and having to backspace.) Not at all. He acts well in it. But aye, there's the rub. (For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come. -- Oops, Hamlet moment. But seriously, I slept through this flick waiting for something dreamy to pop up!) The whole premise of 10 Items or Less is that Freeman's character portrays a has-been actor who is looking to get a big break to resurge the fame and name, the pomp and circumstance. But he actually plays himself: Morgan Freeman. At least I think? And this is exhibit A of what was so annoying about the film. They never mention him by name but they do pan to shots (by way of a DVD he’s holding in his hand) of his actual movies, such as one with Ashley Judd. And when he walks trough the streets, fans shout out in adulation. As we would expect Freeman receives in real life. Also, Freeman fleetingly meets up with Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman as they tool along in their car and Freeman hails to the driver, "Big D!" so clearly he's mentioning DeVito by name. Indicating the film IS featuring actors as themselves. Sort of.

But the whole Freeman acting as an actor bit just gets too acted. This is nodded to in the film as his new best friend over the course of the single day they spend together asks him why he is always "acting" ... but Freeman edifies and says that it is rich observation of humankind that he enacts at all times, ostensibly on the hunt for a potential role for him to play in an actual film.

It's the whole mode/character/bearing/countenance/whateveryouwantocallit part he plays that seems to suffer from an identity crisis. He's neither what I suspect to be the real Morgan Freeman (per interviews I've seen him in), nor is he a neophyte actor with innocence and joie de vivre which are the qualities he drums up in this role. Nothing quite fits the timbre he exudes.

And Freeman as a borderline old-man-lech, which this part could have veered into but thankfully didn't, just added a gossamer veil of ick. The end scene where Freeman and 1/3-his-age Scarlet (Paz Vega) take each other's faces in mutual hands ... just had me saying, "Please don't go there" and phew, it didn't. But how the hell did it get suggestively there anyway (a la cupping each other’s cheeks tenderly in the palms of one another's hands)? So darn quickly and deciding it's best to never see each other again, too. What? Why not? Forced maudlin gravitas.

But let's back up a bit. Freeman's aim, once he meets and takes an instant fascination with bitter yet sassy supermarket clerk, Scarlet (Vega), is to enable her to see the beauty, power and talent she possesses, but isn't aware of. It's a cute and commendable mission and not altogether boring watching their adventures ... and Vega is a superb presence on screen ... but how stilted and improbable the whole progression is leads this reviewer to want to ring up my praise at a different aisle than the one for 10 Items or Fewer.