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Best Laid Plans

Fox Home Video

Starring Alessandro Nivola, Reese Witherspoon, and Josh Brolin

Written by Ted Griffin
Directed by Mike Barker

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Most guys wouldn't know quite what to do if an underage girl accused them of rape. But most guys certainly wouldn't handcuff her to the basement pool table while trying to figure out their next step. Bryce (Josh Brolin), however, takes exactly that unorthodox approach in this pleasing, if slight, neo-Noir from British director Michael Barker.

Bryce is new to the indistinct, dead-end town of Tropico, where he's about to embark on a disingenuous career as an English professor. More excited by jokes about inter-species animal sodomy than by English Lit, Bryce's college job is something of an ill-fitting bid for credibility from this spoiled rich kid cut-off from his parents' wealth.

But Bryce hasn't even taught his first class when a drunken one-night-stand ends with Kathy (Reese Witherspoon) imprisoned in the basement of the house he's sitting. Lost in the mire of his poor decisions, Bryce calls on old college pal — and Tropico local boy — Nick (Alessandro Nivola) for help in sorting the mess out.

Best Laid Plans is a solid new entry into the popular '90s strain of film noir homage. Not only is there an unceasing supply of talented young directors influenced by the hard-boiled B-movies of the 1940s, but their characters seem irrevocably marked by that genre, as well. As in so many movies of this new crop, Plans replaces the traditional tough guys in hats with lazy, amoral, good looking young people who are only too eager to scam and rob their way out of jams and into prosperity.

Barker's movie is full of the usual deceptions, crafty plot machinations, and quirky characters — like a drug kingpin waxing messianic on economic theory — but he takes an unusual tack, eschewing crackling tension for a slow, moody, throbbing burn. A lot of this is credit to poker-faced Nivola whose quiet, thoughtful presence provides an anchor that unusually finds its strength in its remoteness.

There are a few moments when screenwriter Ted Griffin strays from the steady, tightlipped spurts of curt dialog and stumbles awkwardly into flat, longer monologues — and the closing lines are maddeningly vague, pseudo-poetic noir cliches. His plot, however, is sturdy, refreshingly hinging on unpredictability within a genre too dependent on omniscient contrivances.

Witherspoon is good, as usual, forcing a much-needed empathy into her undeveloped character, and surviving a few tough lines and motivations. Brolin's lack of nuance, while it seems at times like good typecasting, leaves him stranded during his more demanding scenes.

Presented in a smooth 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with audio in both 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Surround. Includes commentary by Barker, nine deleted scenes (including an awkward alternate ending), a short featurette, trailer, keep case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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