|Prime Gig, The|
|Written by Tara O'Shea|
|Tuesday, 12 February 2002|
Small-time confidence man Pendleton "Penny" Wise has the gift. He is a "closer" who can sell anything to anyone, including lousy and barely-legal vacation packages to people who don't need them and probably can't afford them. Penny is a con man with a heart of gold -- he takes care of his co-workers, going to bat for them with management and acting as big brother/pseudo-father to disabled free-spirit Joel (Rory Cochrane), who lives rent-free in Penny's apartment and would rather spout hippie philosophy than do a single day's work in his life.
Joel is a millstone hanging around Penny's neck, dragging him down, but Penny dotes on him like an affectionate older brother. Just as his telemarketing job falls apart completely, Penny is
approached by legendary con Kelly Grant (Ed Harris) and his stunningly beautiful partner, Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond). Coming off a stint in prison for insider trading, Grant is setting up a "room" and hiring only top-notch
local talent to raise $2 million in capital for an Arizona gold mine. The eclectic group Grant assembles includes gregarious and flamboyant Zeke (Romany Malco), punk chick Bat Girl ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Amber Benson) and slick Nasser (Brian George).
Penny questions the veracity of Grant's claims that there is $30 million in gold just waiting to be mined. In the end, thinking of the promise of quick and plentiful cash, he claims not to care. However, Penny is too honest and too sweet a criminal to swim with sharks like Kelly. Predictably, Penny falls completely for Caitlin, which leads into a steamy montage of intense love scenes intercut with a now confident and smooth Penny selling interest in the gold mine. However, the situation in Grant's boiler room is eerily reminiscent of the first third of the movie set in the Travel office, except on a much larger scale. Penny's greatest gift is in gaining people's trust, and by the time the audience reaches the gratuitously precious scene of Penny bilking a widow out of her life savings, it's obvious that his own trusting nature will be his downfall.
"The Prime Gig" is like watching an incredibly slow and painful train wreck in that you know that by the end of the film, nothing will be left but a hunk of twisted metal and shattered lives. It's only a question of when the wreckage will come screeching to a halt.
The performances are excellent. Vaughn is likeable and believable as Penny, and Ed Harris is smooth as the charming Kelly. However, the characters play like ciphers. The audience is always detached, on the outside looking in, which makes it difficult to form any kind of attachment to the characters. The film is excruciatingly slowly paced, never slipping into gear until Penny nails both his first deal and Caitlin. Even then, the pace is leisurely and the film is hardly a densely plotted epic. In lieu of clever plotting, William Wheeler's script gives the audience as little information as possible, requiring the viewer to glean what information there is about the characters themselves and the scam in question from the subtle performances. Most frustrating is the fact that Joel's relationship to Penny is never explained, leaving the audience puzzled as to why Penny feels such overwhelming responsibility for such a complete loser. As Joel and Penny's relationship is the impetus for a large chunk of the plot, it robs the audience of a satisfying payoff after an hour and a half of the lackluster tale of greed, sex, and betrayal.
Half an hour into the film, there is a not particularly subtle moment when Penny and Grant, scouting the gold mine site in Arizona, casually stroll past a sign bearing the warning "DANGER: Do Not Go Beyond This Point." This may well serve as a warning to the audience as well. If you're looking for another "Glengarry Glen Ross," we suggest another trip to the video rental store.
As for the disc itself, the transfer from a flawless print is crisp and clean. The sound is fairly standard for a low-key film -- the dialogue is centered, with music and effects coming from the side and rears. The score is lovely and unobtrusive, but ultimately unremarkable. The no-frills disc contains the movie, and literally nothing else: no trailers, no cast bios, no commentary tracks. Fans of Harris, Ormond and Vaughn, as well as talented newcomer Benson, might want to own the disc to complete their collections. But for most potential viewers, "The Prime Gig" is a weekend rental that raises more questions than it answers, and is a mood piece rather than a dramatic tour de force.