Ben Gazzara remains one of the most amiable actors in American movies (to say nothing of his formidable dramatic chops), and he spends the better part of Andrzej Krakowski’s seriocomedy Looking for Palladin proving it. Despite well-publicized health issues (including severe throat cancer) that have robbed the 79-year-old actor of over 40 pounds and severely ravaged his voice, he continues to command the screen with his presence as few of his contemporaries could. His Jack Palladin is a genial and witty ex-Hollywood A-list actor self-exiled to a Guatemalan backwater, and an individual in laid-back command of his own little corner of the world (vaguely recalling one of Gazzara’s prior characterizations, pimp Jack Flowers in Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack). Though well-endowed financially with a lavish home, Palladin works for severely low pay as a short-order cook at a local diner. He has, it seems, discovered his great passion in life in the low-rent culinary arts. Day after day he bides his time preparing simple dishes for local patrons, surrounded by a coterie of loyal friends, including his devoted lover, Rosario (Talia Shire), and the diner owner (Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos). As the story opens, the oil-slick, self-obsessed Hollywood agent Josh Ross (David Moscow) waltzes into this environment -- he’s been shuttled to Guatemala against his will to recruit Palladin for a one-million-dollar bit part in an upcoming production.
Therein lies the material for a great, deeply satisfying character comedy, but the movie only semi-delivers. Both Gazzara and Moscow are ideally cast and a pleasure to watch -- Gazzara for the in-command performance of an old show-business veteran and Moscow (in a potentially ghastly and obnoxious role) for his baby face and wide-eyed innocence that shine through and give him a sad amiability beneath klutzy attempts to project himself as an ice-water-veined Tinseltown power player. We may think we know where the film is headed -- the synopsis suggests a setup where the septuagenarian will teach the self-deceived thirtysomething about life -- but that isn’t exactly what happens. Instead, Krakowski reveals that the characters’ personal histories are intertwined in an unusual and poignant way. Via their encounter, both men will be forced to come to terms with the past and with one another.
Unfortunately, the movie is narratively misguided. It spends far too much of its 115 minutes on Josh’s persistent and unsuccessful attempts to locate Jack in the small town -- which begin on a humorous note but quickly grow tedious and repetitive. Writer-director Krakowski then rushes through the men’s exchanges before arriving at a hasty conclusion. That particular conclusion (a reconciliation) is dramatically on target, but leaves numerous questions unanswered about each character’s future: how each of them have grown, psychologically and emotionally, from this life-changing encounter, and the future of their relationship (if any) with each other. In a way, then, the conclusion seems only the beginning to a much more interesting and intriguing story. The film sets up far more than it can handle dramatically in the running time we’re given, which, of course, wouldn’t be an issue if the search for Jack didn’t become an integral part of the narrative. In a way, the dramatically lighter yet formulaic idea of Palladin helping Ross to redefine life’s priorities (a la Local Hero) might have even been a better way for Krakowski to go with this film -- his temperament seems far better suited for lighter material such as that.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: Ben Gazzara remains one of the most amiable actors in American movies (to say nothing of his formidable dramatic chops), and he spends the better part of Andrzej Krakowski’s seriocomedy Looking for Palladin proving it. Despite well-publicized health issues… (more)