'10 Items or Less': Let the Buyer Beware

Friday, December 1, 2006

"10 Items or Less" is a good-natured but failed experiment in meeting cute -- indie-movie style.

Morgan Freeman stars as an unnamed well-known actor (not unlike, say, Morgan Freeman) who walks into a grocery in a California suburb to research a role he's considering in a low-budget movie. (See In Focus on Page 35.)

Hanging around the store, he becomes fascinated with cashier Scarlet (Paz Vega, the maid in "Spanglish") and her caustic -- and apparently adorable -- manner at the till. Despite his benevolent badgering (which would make any normal person call security) and her confrontational nature, Scarlet warms to the visitor. A few hours later, when she checks out and he finds himself without a ride home, Scarlet offers to give him a lift.

It's clear from the outset that writer-director Brad Silberling is bent on forcing these characters into an unconventional friendship, no matter how unlikely and nonexistent their character -- or actor -- chemistry. Freeman, who normally waltzes through movie scenes with ease and confidence, acts so relaxed and endearing, he comes across as forced. And Vega is reduced to cliched Spanish firebrand rejoinders. Just as counterfeit is their bonding, as they discover a mutual fear of commitment (the actor is coy about agreeing to the role; Scarlet is conflicted about an upcoming job interview) and, in the car, kill time by naming 10 items they love and hate about their lives. Making movies like this should have topped both their "bad" lists.

-- Desson Thomson

10 Items or Less R, 82 minutes Contains profanity. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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