David Mamet, who wrote such unusual hits as Wag the Dog, Glengarry Glen Ross, and American Buffalo, wrote and also directed this unconventional offering entitled Spanish Prisoner, a phrase which refers to a con game.
Joe Ross, played by stage actor Campbell Scott, works for Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara), an executive in a company for which Joe has invented a Process which should prove extremely lucrative for the company. A meeting is being held at a resort in the Caribbean to discuss the future of the Process. No documented promises have been made to Joe regarding compensation for his spectacular creation.
It is difficult for the viewer to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this film. A stranger named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) arrives on the island and makes overt attempts to befriend Joe Ross. He suggests to Joe that Mr. Klein may be trying to swindle Joe out of his rightful remuneration. Dell wants Joe to meet his sister when they return to the states. He asks Joe to bring her a package as a means of introduction. Joe learns that Dell’s so-called sister is an elderly lady.
This incident alone should serve to alert Joe that all is not right. However, Campbell Scott plays his part in a zombie-like manner which causes the viewer to wonder how such a character could come up with the intricate Process in the first place.
Undeterred, Joe agrees to allow Jimmy Dell to open a Swiss bank account for him as well as to sponsor his membership in Dell’s exclusive country club which requires Joe’s signature on the application.
We are also given reason to suspect a secretary from Joe’s company, Susan Ricci (played by David Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon) who is not being truthful to Joe. What about the female FBI agent Pat McCune (Felicity Huffman, wife of William Macy)? Is she also one of the bad guys? Will Mr. Klein prove to be honest or is he looking to glean all the profits for himself? Joe has his work cut out for him to find a real friend in the assortment of people who cozy up to him.
We are so accustomed to seeing Steve Martin in a comedic role. He has proven in Spanish Prisoner that he can leave his comfort zone and choose another genre to highlight his incredible talent. Also, he is surrounded here by a cast of well-chosen actors who all make each other look good. I enjoyed my time watching this romp and would encourage others to do the same.
Spanish Prisoner (1997)