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10 Items or Less

(2006) ** 1/2 R
81 min. ThinkFilm. Director: Brad Silberling. Cast: Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega, Anne Dudek, Jonah Hill, Alexandra Berardi.

What would happen a major Hollywood director whipped together a script, grabbed a major Hollywood actor and an international star, and put them in front of a camera for 15 days? If you're lucky, you'd wind up with something like 10 Items or Less, a ridiculous but cheerful toss-off written and directed by Brad Silberling and starring Morgan Freeman and Paz Vega. Freeman mocks himself by playing a star of Ashley Judd thrillers who's friends with Clint Eastwood.

Credited only as "Him," the character has a touchy ego and a childlike enthusiasm that easily turns to childlike nagging when he needs or wants something (reportedly, Silbering based the character on Dustin Hoffman). To him, all the world's a movie set, including the primarily Hispanic supermarket where he finds himself stranded while researching his next role in what he calls "just a little independent thing—nicely under the radar."

In need of a ride, the actor latches onto Vega's cashier and begins coaching her, as if she's an actress, on how best to appear and perform on a job interview ("What are we audition for?" he asks). What follows is a lost day in the life of an actor, as he happily slums it in the wonderland of a Target store and observes what makes the proletariat tick. That's it, but it's 71 minutes (plus credits) of fun.

Referring to 10 Items or Less as a "little independent thing," of course, would be false modesty, given the roster of talent involved. Bobby Cannavale shows up, as does Wes Anderson stalwart Kumar Pallana; behind the camera is Hollywood DP Phedon Papamichael (Walk the Line, The Pursuit of Happyness), and in the editing room is Oscar winner Michael Kahn (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Saving Private Ryan).

Without Freeman, 10 Items or Less would seem even airier than it is, but the actor is here—clearly having the time of his life—and his spirit is infectious. Silberling's tone is unrepentantly silly, as when Freeman and the crew of a car wash swoon over The Yearling on a waiting-area TV or when Freeman sings about poo (a screen moment devoutly to be wished). The film's very raison d'etre seems to be getting the actor to voice lines such as "Okay, okay. Where can we score some lentils around here?"

Vega's presence in English language films (last practiced in Spanglish) isn't yet as sure, but she still makes good company, and Silberling's light touch serves the actors as well as the material, which simply considers the relationship of a career to a life, and artists to their audiences.

Silberling manages both to puncture the pretensions of actors and also demonstrate why we love, if not need, them. As pompous as actors may be, and as out of touch as they may seem, there's truth in "Him"'s self-appraisal: "I may not know my phone number. I might not even know it is. But I know people." Silberling may have significantly less than ten items in his thematic basket, but his film is amusing and charming all the same.

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