Ten Items or Less (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Here's a movie that falls into a category titled "Under the Radar and Straight from the Heart." I have now forgiven director Brad Silberling for making Moonlight Mile, the painfully melodramatic weeper from 2002. The Lemony Snicket film helped get him back into my good graces and his latest, Ten Items or Less, has decided matters. This low-budget, unpretentious film is as charming as any 2006 release, and it proves that the class of Morgan Freeman and the fire of Paz Vega can carry a motion picture.

Plots don't get much simpler. Freeman is playing a veteran actor who's doing research for an upcoming role. Although never identified by name, let's call the character "Morgan Freeman." Vega plays Scarlet, a cashier who doesn't give a damn about her job. When it's time for her to go home, she realizes Morgan has a problem: his ride hasn't arrived, and he's lost in L.A. He doesn't remember his own phone number, he doesn't have any friends to call (his agent and publicist are both unavailable since they're Jewish and it's a Jewish holiday), and he doesn't have any money. Scarlet agrees to drive him home, but he has to accompany her on a few urgent errands first. This allows Freeman to experience the wonders of Target, among other things.

About 60 of the movie's 82 minutes feature no one other than Vega and Freeman. As they drive around Los Angeles, they discuss life, self-respect, and a bunch of other topics. They get to know each other and, in the process, find out a few things about themselves. Scarlet gains the confidence to quit her despised job and interview for a new one. If she doesn't get it, it's no big deal - she'll try again. Morgan decides to get back into filmmaking (he has been semi-retired), even if it's only to star in an indie production.

Ten Items or Less recalls Lost in Translation and Before Sunrise, but without the romantic aspect. Like the characters in those films, Scarlet and Morgan have only a limited time together. During that time, they develop a surprisingly strong bond, but when the day is over, they will never see each other again. However, where love blossomed between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and sexual tension arced between Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, the relationship between Morgan and Scarlet remains platonic.

Ten Items or Less is not landmark cinema nor is it deeply thought-provoking, but it's smart, funny, knowledgeable about life and people, and a crowd-pleaser (at least for those who don't expect action scenes). Freeman oozes charisma and Vega couldn't be more alluring (even wearing the supermarket smock). There's instant chemistry between the two actors and it never evaporates.

If every sliver lining has a cloud, in this case the latter is supplied by the MPAA. The close-minded curmudgeons at the ratings board have awarded the film an R because the word "fuck" is used several times. It's unfortunate because this is a perfect motion picture for teenagers who are serious about movies (as opposed to teenagers who only spend their dollars on the latest blockbusters). Irrespective of what the MPAA might claim, Ten Items or Less is a pleasant experience for viewers of all ages.

Ten Items or Less (United States, 2006)

Director: Brad Silberling
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Paz Vega
Screenplay: Brad Silberling
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Antonio Pinto
U.S. Distributor: ThinkFilm
Run Time: 1:22
U.S. Release Date: 2006-12-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1