The Limey

on October 08, 1999 by Lael Loewenstein
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   It was exactly 10 years ago that Stephen Soderbergh rocked both Sundance and Cannes with his striking "sex lies and videotape," winning the Palme d'Or and portending a career of great promise. Yet for a director as immensely talented as Soderbergh, it's frustrating how inconsistently he's delivered on that promise. Always innovative but not always involving, they range from the sublime ("sex, lies and videotape," "King of the Hill," "Out of Sight") to the disappointing ("Kafka"). Regrettably, his latest effort, "The Limey," falls into the second camp. A routine thriller marred by inconsistent performances, a sluggish pace and stylistic flourishes that frequently feel affected, it's far from his best work. Eventually, when critics contextualize this film in the director's still evolving body of work, it may prompt a reevaluation. For now, however, its merits are tough to spot.
   Terence Stamp ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert") plays British ex-con Wilson (a "Limey" in his local slang) who journeys to Los Angeles to discover how and why his daughter Jenny died. Though she was ostensibly the victim of a car accident, Wilson believes there is more to the story, and his search leads him to cross paths with an assortment of characters including a kindly aging actress (Lesley Ann Warren), a reformed crook (Luis Guzman), a mysterious, taciturn millionaire (Peter Fonda), the rich man's henchman (Barry Newman) and a host of drug-dealing thugs. All of these characters only complicate needlessly what is essentially a simple revenge story. While the dialogue and narrative are almost minimalistic, the visual elements, conversely, are often overstated. Soderbergh flirts with editing techniques somewhat reminiscent of the French New Wave, inserting jump cuts and nonlinear sequences designed to unsettle the viewer. Whereas similar techniques worked to splendid effect in "Out of Sight," here they can feel pretentious. Stamp is fine in the title role, though he's cursed with occasionally ludicrous dialogue. Fonda, however, is barely believable in a performance that makes his lovely, understated work in "Ulee's Gold" look like an aberration.    Starring Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda and Lesley Ann Warren. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Written by Lem Dobbs. Produced by John Hardy. An Artisan release. Crime drama. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 90 min.
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