103) 10 Items or Less (2006) Dir: Brad Silberling Date Released: December 2006 Date Seen: April 14th, 2009 Rating: 1/5
Writer/director Brad Silberling’s 10 Items or Less (2006) is a perfect test for anyone who ever said that they could watch Morgan Freeman read the phone book and be sated. It’s a feel-good comedy about enduring life on the bluecollar margins by the director of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) and the upcoming revamp of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Land of the Lost (2009). That’s right, before Siberling made Will Ferrell fight the Sleestaks he made a warm-hearted, low-budget trip into the faux-indie heartland and dragged down there Morgan Freeman with him.
Here Freeman, billed only as “Him,” isn’t playing the “magical negro” type that he normally does—he forfeits his race card when he picks at a cassette tape of Paul Simon and cooes at images from The Yearling (1946) playing on a TV at a Latino carwash. In Silberling’s real-world fantasy, Freeman is a “magical movie star” that swoops down from his ivory tower after four years of inaction to help Scarlet (Paz Vega), a dumpy(?!) supermarket employee in desperate need of a change of pace. Freeman’s an angel whose ability to enrich Scarlet’s life comes from his superhuman distance from the common people—he gawks at the low prices at Target, amazed that such a wondrous smorgasbord of savings exists. If you can’t tell by now, “Him”’s an idiot.
He’s also a major dick. As always, Freeman’s earnestness in the film is reflected by his tendency to shoot from the hip. In this case, however, he talks, and hence thinks, in Hollywood jargon: when he sees Scarlet’s ripped blouse, he fails to comfort her by stammering: “This? That’s nothing! That’s just a wardrobe change! Don’t worry about it.” The man, not so much kooky as he is insipid, has no regard for the plebeians whose toes he’s stepping on while he traipses through their lives like a Hollywood moonman confused by our quaint Earth customs—upon seeing the sign outside Scarlet’s trailer park community he smirks to no one in particular, “Star Mobile…ha! God, I feel at home already! This your neighborhood? Nice. Real…texture.”
Because Freeman’s our guide to the world of dead-end, working-class, immigrant America, the world according to 10 Items or Less looks as true-to-life as Disneyland’s "It’s a Small World" ride. As if it wasn’t enough that Scarlet lives in a trailer while being dicked over by her cheating future ex-husband (Bobby Cannavale), the fact that she drives a lemon-yellow Gremlin, the car that makes the Pinto look regal, tips us off to how stuck in place she's supposed to be. At this point, I’m laughing but not with Freeman or the film. These clichéd and absurd details are so piercingly obnoxious that it’s impossible to think that at some point, this character was intended to represent reality according to an outsider. Thank goodness Silberling isn’t making this kind of project his regular thing because man, this shit makes Lemony Snicket look genuwine.