Lily (Loren Horsley) is a frumpy little weirdo working at a fast food joint who everyone makes fun of. But she may have met her soul mate in Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) a sarcastic constantly annoyed slacker. At a costume party where she comes as a shark and he as an eagle she wows him with her video game skills. They start dating but Jarrod becomes obsessed with fighting an old high school bully. His crusade tears them apart while Lily is stuck watching Jarrod’s train wreck of a life. The whole movie feels like a bad rip off of Napoleon Dynamite. It’s the idea of seeing weird characters in otherwise banal situations only it really is just weird and banal. These slackers don't say clever things. They just complain. The climactic fight pays off in a somewhat funny way but since the characters are so repulsive it's hard to muster any excitement. On the other hand the actors do their jobs well. It's not their fault they've been asked to play boring annoying losers. Horsley does her best to bring sympathy to Lily. She offers a loyal loving partner who just gets screwed by a loser guy. But she's so good at playing pathetic it overpowers anything else so you really don't care if she hooks up with him or not. Clement goes all out. His random outbursts seem to come from a real place though they are still utterly random. Perhaps with more inventive material these two could really do something. Jarrod’s family is filled with supporting actors who fill in other oddball traits making Jarrod's behavior a definite inherited condition. They're even a little more sympathetic than Jarrod because they at least know Jarrod is messing up his only chance for a good relationship. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by slacker characters who have profound observations about the world. New Zealand writer/director Taika Cohen is trying to emulate the oddball tone of a Napoleon Dynamite combined with the slacker attitudes of a Clerks but none of those films’ endearments or wry social commentary come through in Eagle vs. Shark. On top of it the film looks like a school project. Maybe it’s trendy for indie films to adapt this style but sometimes it draws more attention to the incompetence of the filmmakers. Cohen thinks he's clever and revels in his creation lingering on moments that just don't play. But honestly you won’t want to pay to spend 90 minutes with these people.
Hardened by years of brutal but loyal military service special ops officer Robert Scott (Val Kilmer) is assigned to find the president's apparently kidnapped daughter Laura Newton (Kristen Bell). Pairing up with his protégé Curtis (Derek Luke) Scott works diligently with a task force of presidential advisors the Secret Service the FBI and the CIA to find her and through their investigation they stumble upon a white slavery ring in the Middle East which may--or may not--have some connection to Laura's disappearance. The straightforward search-and-rescue mission is soon bogged down in political machinations and the girl's abduction starts to look even more suspicious than it did at first. In fact the mission comes to an abrupt halt altogether when the girl is supposedly found drowned from a boating accident. Scott returns to his quiet life until Curtis shows up and proves that Laura is still alive and most likely trapped in the white slavery ring. In a race against time Scott and Curtis embark on their own unofficial rescue mission--and put themselves at the center of a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the U.S. government.
Val Kilmer probably won't be joining Mamet's dedicated circle of players--which includes Joe Mantegna William H. Macy and Mamet's wife actress Rebecca Pidgeon--any time soon. While it's clear Kilmer took the role to work with the talented writer/director he isn't well suited to deliver "Mamet-speak"--the rapid fire delivery of terse dialogue the writer is known for--and Kilmer looks uncomfortable trying to do it. The gifted actor who can't help but bring in his own quirky sensibilities to the part still hits the nail on the head as steely resolute Scott. But the minute he starts dispensing sage advice--Mamet-style--Kilmer sticks out like a sore thumb. Same goes for Luke (Antwone Fisher) who is entirely miscast as Scott's sidekick. Others in the ensemble however handle the Mamet chores more adeptly including Macy and Ed O'Neill (yes the guy from TV's Married ... With Children) as presidential aides.
Spartan's real problem however is that it's a thriller without much thrill. Mamet's expertise is in creating scenarios within a microcosm whether it's a world of con artists (House of Games; The Spanish Prisoner) salesmen (Glengarry Glen Ross) or even showbiz (State and Main). These Mamet films are even-keeled--almost devoid of emotion. He sets up characters and actions relevant to that particular world so when characters spout lines in Mamet's distinctive style it comes off as perfectly natural. Yet with Spartan Mamet is tackling a bigger grander picture and when his style is applied to the world as a whole it doesn't work. Plus in the thriller genre the audience needs to feel invested in the characters and Mamet's distant unemotional style doesn't lend itself to sending the audience's collective hearts racing. The only poignant moment in the film belongs to Bell as the wounded daughter who just wants a little attention from Daddy and the only truly exciting moments are during her rescue. That said however Spartan proves Mamet still knows how to craft a story. Although the script is at times vague and convoluted it thankfully never falls into any of the genre's usual patterns and it throws in enough twists to keep you on your toes.