It's difficult to imagine someone watching Glengarry Glen Ross and not falling in love with the dialogue between those salesmen of varying talent levels. That film is driven by a superlative script, written by David Mamet. Expecting the same from his 2004 spy thriller Spartan, which Mamet also directs, I have a hard time believing Spartan and Glengarry have the same man behind them. Where the back-and-forth of Glengarry is memorable and quotable, Spartan is utilitarian and hackneyed. Where the characterization in Glengarry is intricate and thorough, Spartan relies on genre cliches or just doesn't try very hard. Spartan is so derivative of earlier spy thrillers, and such a bad imitation of something starring Jack Ryan or Jack Bauer, that I am inclined to think Mamet is playing a joke on his audience. If so, I don't get it.
A wooden Val Kilmer stars as Sergeant Robert Scott, a special forces commando recruited into a vital mission. The President's daughter Laura (Kristen Bell) has been kidnapped, presumably by slavers intent on selling her into prostitution. However, the slavers didn't realize who she was when they initially abducted her, giving Scott and the government time to recover her safely. Scott finds himself leading and participating in multiple operations to find Laura, many of which fail or are called off at the last minute. He gets a series of sidekicks played by Derek Luke among others, though none of them make an impression.
The dialogue is Spartan's greatest offender. It's completely lacking in humanity, and would be better suited for a video game. Its only purpose is to move the action forward to the next doomed-to-fail plot. Mamet attempts to cover the mechanical aspects with snappy zingers on the end of conversations, and Kilmer is no Schwarzeneggar. Because so many characters are disposable, Scott continuously has to restate the details to his next sidekick. If the viewer can't recognize the characters as humans reacting in a human way, then no amount of ridiculous stakes can rescue the film.
As high as those stakes are, the set pieces are so logic-defying as to make them meaningless. Snipers show up to fire a little life into the film, but after briefly thinking about how long they must have been sitting there or what their orders must have been, it all falls apart. A climactic confrontation is undone by coincidence and villain-monologuing, something so parodied to death that I have to think Mamet included it on purpose. I would be more inclined to see him winking from behind the camera if there were any jokes here, but all the actors are playing things perfectly, dully straight. If things were 25% more over-the-top, I could maybe see the comedy, if that was even in Mamet's motive in the first place. As is, Spartan is a failed imitation of 24. It falls woefully short of even earning steak knives, much less that first place Cadillac. D