Film Review: Looking for Palladin

The unsubtle approach to a lead character—a crude, motormouth Hollywood talent agent—sinks this otherwise often watchable comedic drama about a show-biz fish out of water in quaintest Guatemala.

Looking for Palladin, from Polish-born writer-director Andrzej Krakowski (Triumph of the Spirit), pits 1960s movie star Jack Palladin (Ben Gazzara), who fled the high life and personal problems for anonymity in Antigua, Guatemala, against eager-beaver Hollywood agent Josh (David Moscow), charged to lure him back home for a million-dollar-cameo payday.

It’s not a terrible idea, and the film’s Guatemala backdrop sizzles with local and literal colors, the latter thanks to the vivid native clothing and painterly pastel buildings of Antigua. (The notes say that this is the first outside production since the ’30s to film in Guatemala.) But a major flaw limits the film’s appeal and box-office potential.

The story kicks off with frazzled, hot-wired agent Josh, fresh off the plane from L.A. in fake Guccis, trying frantically to follow the scent to where his dropout star prey might lie. With his hands-free cell-phone seemingly cemented around his ear, Josh, looking like a nut job talking loudly to himself, babbles biz-speak nonstop with his office and bitches about his new surroundings. (He just doesn’t find it fun to have a rooster as his bus companion.)

Arriving in Antigua, Josh meanders around the community like the ugly American gone amok that he is. After trying without any knowledge of Spanish to pry information from the locals—even attempting to bribe Jack’s protective pal, the police chief (Pedro Armandariz, Jr.)—Josh finally ends up at the El Viejo Café, an ex-pat hang-out where Jack works as a cook, spars good-naturedly with boss Arnie (Vincent Pastore), and flirts with waitress Rosario (Talia Shire).

When Josh finally connects with Jack, he reveals that there’s more than the cameo business (a sequel to Shane, no less) on the table. In fact, he’s Jack’s stepson and there are old axes to grind. These drip with the soap-opera melodrama surrounding the death of a beloved mother, celebrity bad behavior, and a bitter, neglected son of Hollywood.

The film’s big misstep lies with Josh, not so much the result of how he is played by Moscow (whose Kirk/Michael chin dimple is memorable) but how he has been conceived and executed as a distasteful, one-dimensional cliché. Krakowski’s heavy-handed overreaching is the fatal problem: It’s impossible to believe this character, even as he softens late in the game as a forgiving and familiar victim of awful parenting.