Spartan (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In many ways, this film is a pedestrian Hollywood thriller like a thousand before it. The president's daughter is kidnapped, and the plot starts twisting. How did the secret service miss it? Why was she kidnapped? Is it possible that the kidnappers do not know who she is? She seems to be dead? Is it possible that she is not? If the death was faked, was it done by the kidnappers, the daughter, the President, or some people close to the President? If somebody faked it, and there is evidence that they did, why so?


Accidental nudity only - Kristen Bell accidentally loses one breast from her top for about two frames.

The film rises above that level of mediocre plotting and hackneyed suspense devices because David Mamet (Heist, The Spanish Prisoner) is a great screenwriter who simply re-invents the genre with his technique. To begin with, he doesn't give us any back story. Perhaps you think I spoiled the film by telling you so much in the previous paragraph. The problem is that anything I told you at all would have been a spoiler. My first clause, "the president's daughter is kidnapped", was already a spoiler because the film begins somewhere in the middle of an interrogation. We don't know who is interrogating whom, and we don't know the subject of the interrogation. We don't know if a crime has been committed, or what it might be. We only know that some very serious men are very concerned about something big. David Mamet manages to create an additional mystery for us by forcing us to try to figure out what the plot is in the first place. In the hands of a hack, this could have been a disaster. In Mamet's hands, it is as smooth as silk, continually involving, constantly engaging the minds of the viewers. That man can write. He has a great knack for creating a mystery, then solving it while creating another, deeper mystery.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • commentary by actor Val Kilmer

Like any Hollywood thriller, it has a serpentine plot with more twists than a Chubby Checker retrospective, but Mamet plots so confidently that he figures out in advance what has happened, then gets his suspense from HOW the twists are revealed rather than WHAT is revealed. I found all the plot twists reasonable in the context of the film, and Mamet's dialogue is as smart as ever.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus three and a half stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 4/4.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. Although I liked it as much as any thriller in years, Spartan bombed at the box office. It made about four million dollars, never reaching more than 900 screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. If you like this genre, you will love this one.

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