Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

"Despite some dodgy plotholes and remarkable coincidences, the film is genuinely exciting."

The title is a classical reference to an ancient practice of sending one man against an army. That mixture of erudition and macho pride neatly sums up David Mamet's movie. Another description might be "the thinking man's Rambo".

Surely not, though - for isn't Mamet a renowned playwright, a noted intellectual and creator of tricksy, stylish art films? Well, yes. But while this isn't a case of "selling out" - and Spartan is quite decidedly a Mamet film - where it works is when it sticks most closely to the action movie genre, with all the delicious excitement and shocks that entails.

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Val Kilmer, a famously "difficult" actor who's had more second chances in Hollywood than actual hits, plays the tough guy. He's perhaps well cast as a covert cop, Scott, who is a thoroughly dislikeable sort without tiresome backstory or quirks. He's just a real badass, wedded to the mission without really caring what it is.

This current mission turns out to be the kidnapping of the President's student daughter. Quite unbelievably, she's been picked up by the modern white slave trade - evil Arabs who drug and sell blonde American girls to brothels in Dubai. That plotline is, if anything, more over-the-top and borderline racist than anything in Stallone's or Schwarzenegger's oeuvre. And let's not even mention the inept black rookie who screws up the rescue.

Well, seems Scott is the only one tough enough and nasty enough to kill whoever it takes to get the girl back. But, of course, it's not so clear cut, as the cynical intelligence world's involvement emerges.

Kilmer reins in his trademark tics and is suitably stonefaced and physically intimidating, though really it could be anyone in the part. There's a strong supporting cast, including Ed O'Neill of Married ... With Children in a completely opposite role and Saïd Taghmaoui as a bad guy. And only an actor as good as William H. Macy (the Gene Hackman of his time?) could carry off the part he plays, which has virtually no lines throughout, relying solely on his presence.

Mamet's dialogue sometimes sounds forced or stagy and the movie doesn't escape the mawkish tendencies of action flicks, with a lot of corny stuff about comradeship, the mission and the like. Women also get the usual Mamet rough deal; while he's cynical about people in general, the few female characters are particularly savaged. Little sympathy, or even attention, is paid to the actual plight of the sex slaves.

But he does an excellent job of keeping the tension high. Despite some dodgy plotholes and remarkable coincidences, the film is genuinely exciting. Favouring suspense over out-and-out action - there is a lot of shooting, but no huge special effects - it's a decent choice for a quick thrill.

Reviewed on: 06 Aug 2004
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A military expert is called in to rescue the abducted daughter of a high-profile politician.
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David Haviland ***

Director: David Mamet

Writer: David Mamet

Starring: Val Kilmer, Ed O'Neill, Kristen Bell, Derek Luke, William H Macy, Said Taghmaoui, Jeremie Campbell, Tia Texada, Lionel Mark Smith, Bob Jennings, Johnny Messner

Year: 2004

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/Germany


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