Looking for Palladin -- Film Review

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NEW YORK -- "Looking for Palladin," from Polish-born writer-director Andrzej Krakowski ("Triumph of the Spirit"), pits 1960s movie star Jack Palladin (Ben Gazzara), who fled the high life and personal problems for anonymity in Antigua, Guatemala, against eager-beaver Hollywood agent Josh (David Moscow), charged with luring him back home for a million-dollar-cameo payday.

It's not a terrible idea, and the film's Guatemala backdrop sizzles with local and literal colors, the latter thanks to the vivid native clothing and pastel buildings of Antigua. (The notes say that this is the first outside production since the '30s to film in Guatemala.) But a major flaw limits the film's appeal and boxoffice potential.

The story kicks off with frazzled, hot-wired agent Josh, fresh off the plane from L.A. in fake Guccis, trying frantically to follow the scent to where his dropout star prey might lie. With his hands-free cell-phone seemingly cemented around his ear, Josh, looking like a nut job talking loudly to himself, babbles biz-speak nonstop with his office and bitches about his new surroundings. (He just doesn't find it fun to have a rooster as his bus companion.)

Josh meanders around the community like the ugly American gone amok that he is. After trying without any knowledge of Spanish to pry information from the locals -- even attempting to bribe Jack's protective pal, the police chief (Pedro Armandariz, Jr.) -- Josh finally ends up at the El Viejo Cafe. This is an ex-pat hangout where Jack works as a cook even as he spars good-naturedly with boss Arnie (Vincent Pastore) and flirts with waitress Rosario (Talia Shire).

When Josh finally connects with Jack, he reveals there's more than the cameo business (a sequel to "Shane," no less) on the table. In fact, he's Jack's stepson and there are old axes to grind. These drip with the soap opera melodrama surrounding the death of a beloved mother, celebrity bad behavior and a bitter, neglected son of Hollywood.

The film's big misstep lies with Josh, not so much the result of how he is played by Moscow (whose Kirk/Michael Douglas chin dimple is memorable) but how he has been conceived and executed as a distasteful, two-dimensional cliche. Krakowski's heavy-handed overreaching is the fatal problem: It's impossible to believe this character, even as he softens late in the game, as a forgiving and familiar victim of awful parenting.

Opened: October 30 (Wildcat Releasing)

Production companies: A Pine Hill Prods. and Tousi Prods. production, in association with Maya Cine Digital and Full Moon Angel Cine Independiente
Cast: Ben Gazzara, David Moscow, Talia Shire, Pedro Armendariz, Jr., Angelica Aragon, Vincent Pastore, Roberto Diaz Gomar, the Morales Brothers
Director: Andrzej Krakowski
Screenwriter: Andrzej Krakowski
Producer: Mahyad Tousi
Executive producer: Majka Elczewska
Directors of photography: Giovanni Fabietti, Alberto "Chak" Chaktoura
Production designers: Jorge Rossi, Rene Bustamente
Costume designer: Jennifer Mielke
Music: Joel Dancyger, Jim Skinger, Alan Kushan
Editor: Babak Rassi
Not rated, 115 minutes
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