The Limey
Starring: Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley Ann Warren, Luis Guzman, Barry Newman

Stephen Soderbergh

Writing credits: John Hardy, Scott Kramer
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
Rated: R for violence and language
  (US 1999)

In the dark, first moments of THE LIMEY, a voice comes from the void, saying four words with gravelly tension and veiled mystery: "Tell me about Jenny". It's a voice that unmistakably announces the presence of one of the last unforgettable cinema stars, Terrence Stamp. From his classic roles in Far From The Madding Crowd and Billy Budd to his modern resurgence in films as diverse as Bliss, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, Stamp is presence personified: ice blue eyes, virile stance, noble profile, and that voice. He is the sole reason to see THE LIMEY, a convoluted mishmash created by indie auteur Steven Soderbergh. However, as in all things, Stamp is enough reason to do anything.

Essentially a trumped-up underworld vendetta flick, THE LIMEY becomes a surreal landscape in the hands of Stamp and Soderbergh, envisioning urban California as both a desolate wasteland and an oasis of excess. The director's previous film, Out Of Sight, boasted a postmodern hipster irreverence and splashy color palette, both of which have carried over into this latest work. Furthermore, even though Stamp's out-of-place title character cuts a cultural swath through the film's ephemerality, the director seems to prefer atmosphere over narrative. Soderbergh's bag of directorial tricks are on display, including jump cuts, interior monologues that become spoken halfway through, and out of sync takes. With all of Soderbergh's sleight of hand, however, it's still essentially an episode of The Equalizer, a Dirty Harry-ish noir tale that suffocates on its own stylishness.

But then there's Stamp. Imagine plopping Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, or Lawrence Olivier into the middle of Reservoir Dogs, and you might get a hint of the awkward beauty of THE LIMEY. It's not that Stamp is miscast; on the contrary, he's perfectly suited to Wilson, the ex-con who has come to America to track down his daughter's killer. It's more that Stamp is so far above the material and the tepid proceedings, he operates on another plane entirely.

There are almost two films at work in THE LIMEY, and audiences may wish that someone had left out the kitschy, ambient one and left the gritty, intricate one Stamp is living in.

He doesn't get much help from his supporting cast, either. Lesley Ann Warren, who is trying to reinvent herself as an indie queen with this and her better turn in Twin Falls Idaho, is flat as a pancake in her role as a friend of Jenny, Stamp's daughter. The burgeoning, unspoken passion that is written into the scenes between Warren and Stamp goes unfulfilled.

Peter Fonda plays the wimpy villain of the film, Terry Valentine, a morally-conflicted record producer. Certainly the character is thinly drawn, but Fonda shows no ability to make heads or tails of it. Stamp's only onscreen partnership that works, oddly enough, is with the brilliant, underrated character actor Luis Guzman. As a former friend (and acting school classmate) of Jenny who alerts Wilson to the underhanded nature of her murder, he is alternately funny, wise, clever, serious, and mesmerizing.

THE LIMEY, with all of its serious faults, is worth seeing. Stamp is the elder statesman of intelligent counterculture cinema, and his performance here makes what is otherwise a lackluster project come energetically alive. It may not be great, but he is, and that's more than enough cause for celebration.


- Gabriel Shanks

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Review text copyright © 2000 Jill Cozzi and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.


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