10 Items Or Less

2006, Movie, R, 82 mins


LEMONY SNICKET director Brad Silberling takes a low-budget breather with a stripped-down, simplistically metaphorical two-character comedy about an unnamed movie actor (Morgan Freeman) and a Spanish-American supermarket cashier (Paz Vega) who spend an unusual afternoon together. They meet when the actor is dropped off at Archie's Ranch Market in the middle of the drab, industrial L.A. suburb of Carson, California. He's on a reconnaissance mission of sorts: Once well-known for big-budget thrillers costarring Ashley Judd, the aging actor is now considering the part of a supermarket manager in a small indie by an unknown director, and he's come to Carson to do some research. But, he's quick to point out, he "hasn't committed to anything yet," a line he repeats with such regularity that it becomes blindingly obvious that caution is an issue. The fact is, he hasn't worked in four years: Concerns about preserving his marketability and dodging "creative bullets" have effectively sidelined his career. Doing a small, low-risk indie might be just the thing to get him back in the game, and a visit to Archie's will bring him into contact with a real-life supermarket manager whom he can observe should he commit to the project. Unfortunately, the big boss is out, and aside from the deaf and doddering standby manager (Kumar Pallana), the only person on hand worth watching is Scarlet Morales (Vega), a no-nonsense cashier who refuses to take any BS — or checks — while working the dreaded 10-items-or-less express lane. A keen observer of behavioral details, the actor is fascinated by her ability to ring up items before they leave the shopper's plastic baskets. And though she knows exactly who he is, Scarlet is hardly star-struck. She actually seems a little annoyed by his lurking. When her shift ends, his ride home still hasn't arrived; unable to contact his agent or remember his new home number, he throws himself at Scarlet's mercy. She reluctantly offers to drive him to Brentwood, but when he hears she's going on a job interview that very afternoon, he insists on teaching her a few tricks of his trade in order to build Scarlet's self-confidence and help her land the job. Will it ruin the film to mention that she in turns teaches him to commit? Probably, since other than these precious life lessons, the movie has little to offer — excepting Vega's endearing performance. The scenes inside Archie's are amusing, but the rest of the film is padded with long, empty moments in which Vega applies makeup in a gas-station bathroom and she and Freeman sing duets from the front seat of her car. It all feels like an insubstantial short that's been stretched to the breaking point. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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