Elisabeth Shue is many things. Perky. Pretty. Um … perky. But here are two things she isn’t: dangerous and devious.
Shue’s miscasting as a dangerous, devious seductress isn’t the only problem in “Palmetto,” either.
The movie would like to pull a “Body Heat,” reviving the conventions of film noir - sappy hero who meets a femme fatale and pretty soon somebody ends up dead - but director Volker Schlondorff won’t commit to that. “Body Heat” succeeded because it was willing to be ridiculous and over-the-top.
It recognized there was something sexy and cool about its ridiculousness, whereas “Palmetto” tries to make fun of its own ridiculousness.
It doesn’t work, particularly in an ending that makes us feel like chumps for sitting through the whole thing.
The story’s about a rich dame (Shue, and see what I mean? There’s no way the word “dame” fits in a description of her) who hires an ex-reporter (Woody Harrelson) to pretend to kidnap her stepdaughter (Chloe Sevigny, from “Kids”). So far so good.
But Shue gets less believable as the script makes her more treacherous. And the pace, which needs to be fast and tight so we don’t dwell on the inconsistencies, is as slow and uneventful as watching the Olympics’ curling coverage. At one point, when Harrelson says, “Sorry, we’re all out of twists,” he could be reviewing his own movie.
You want “Palmetto” to work. You can see how writer E. Max Frye studied “Double Indemnity” to get the nasty, staccato rhythms of the dialogue, but he hasn’t matched it.
The only person who makes her dialogue work is the movie’s very big bright spot, Sevigny as a cynical-beyond-her-years teenager. “Oooooh! Corruption in City Hall. What a shock,” she snarls, while twisting Harrelson around her Urban Decay-painted fingernail.
Bright, funny and unnervingly sexy, Sevigny is everything the rest of “Palmetto” is not.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Palmetto” Location: Lyons, Spokane Valley Mall, Coeur d’Alene Cinemas Credits: Directed by Volker Schlondorff, starring Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Shue, Chloe Sevigny Running time: 1:52 Rating: R