A Bluray of David Mamet‘s The Spanish Prisoner pops on 1.8.19; Amazon Prime members can stream it right now.

My recollections are a little fuzzy. Critics generally liked it. Mostly I remember the novelty of Steve Martin playing a smooth-talking bad guy. I recall that the first third or even the first half are highly intriguing, and then it kind of runs out of gas during the second half. I racked my brain but couldn’t recall any specific problems — just a vague sense of attrition. I know it always means something when you can’t recall much in the way of plot specifics, much less how a film ends.

So I read the fairly detailed Wikipedia synopsis and it still didn’t come back to me. So I’ve decided to watch it again. Tomorrow or the next day, I mean. Right now I’m stuck on a hellish, soul-suffocating N.Y.-to-L.A. flight, and of course the wifi isn’t strong enough to stream movies with. (It’s so shitty that I can’t even upload an image to the right folder on my server.)

The Spanish Prisoner is a dry, rather droll white-collar con movie. Everyone in the cast is a smooth villain (Martin, Ben Gazzara, Rebecca Pidgeon, the late Ricky Jay, Felicity Huffman). Campbell Scott, the creator of some kind of valuable financial “process” (blah McGuffin), is the increasingly frazzled mark.

This opens up something new for HE list queens — films that drop the ball during their second halves or third acts but are terrifically entertaining during their first 33% to 50%. Some of these films are so great during their first halves that I don’t even mind that they fumble it later on.

I love this Roger Ebert observation: “[Mamet’s] characters often speak as if they’re wary of the world, afraid of being misquoted, reluctant to say what’s on their minds: As a protective shield, they fall into precise legalisms, invoking old sayings as if they’re magic charms.”