The Spanish Prisoner

on April 03, 1998 by Susan Green
   It's an interesting combination: The minimalism of David Mamet and the high anxiety of Alfred Hitchcock. Although the late master of suspense made no actual contribution to "The Spanish Prisoner," the living Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright clearly has adopted some of his thriller instincts. The result is a twisting tale of paranoia, the most accessible movie Mamet has written and directed to date.

   A naive inventor named Joe (Campbell Scott) is lured into a web of industrial espionage by several other characters (Steve Martin, Ben Gazzara, Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon) who are not what they seem. The "McGuffin" in this instance, secret plans for a valuable new process, is even more obscure that the usual Hichcockian plot device. This being Mamet, however, the dialogue periodically has a stylized ring to it. Martin does a nice turn as a clever con artist with a knack for manipulating Joe, a guy who doesn't know too much about how to catch a thief.    Starring Campbell Scott, Steve Martin, Ben Gazzara, Rebecca Pidgeon, Felicity Huffman and Ricky Jay. Written and directed by David Mamet. Produced by J.E. Beaucaire. A Jean Doumanian production. A Sony Classics release. Drama. Running time: 111 min.

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