New Line // 2000 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // January 24th, 2002
In a world where everyone is working an angle, is trust possible?
A small slice of character life, The Prime Gig is a sober film that dwells on subtle mood and character interaction. A parade of recognizable faces and acting talents make The Prime Gig a reasonable hour and a half diversion, despite the deficiencies of the writing and a bare-bones DVD release.
Pendleton Wise (Vince Vaughn), known to his colleagues simply as "Penny," is by far the best salesman in his boiler room. You see, Penny is skilled at selling shady products to his prey by using only his voice and a telephone. None of these jobs comes with riches or security, but it is one way to pay his bills and support his disabled, freeloading brother Joel (Rory Cochrane).
When his latest shady employer folds, Penny's contacts mention a rumor that the legendary Kelly Grant (Ed Harris) is recruiting for a top-class, high dollar operation. Adding spice to the job is Grant's cool assistant, Caitlin Carlson (Julia Ormond), who takes a liking to Penny's skills, sales and otherwise (if you know what I mean). Grant has assembled an all-star cast of shady sellers, but surprisingly seems to be selling a legitimate product.
Raking in the sales even as he and Caitlin have a torrid affair, Penny ponders many questions. Is Grant legitimate, or merely the pinnacle of smooth con men? Is Caitlin falling for him, or is she playing her own angle? Does he love Caitlin, or is he fooling himself? More importantly, is he so hardened by his job that he can't see when he's not being played?
At first blush, you might think The Prime Gig is a shady Glengarry Glen Ross for the Gen-X set. Be warned, though, for The Prime Gig is much more loosely written than your usual densely plotted and fiendishly crafted David Mamet handiwork. The Prime Gig becomes a film focused more on the struggles of one man swimming in a sea of friendless sharks wondering if he has become a heartless predator himself. Details of plot and character development are downplayed with that goal in mind. So, in the end, we still have little solid fact on Penny, aside from a general impression of a core of decency surrounded by professional suspicion.
While the ambiguity allows The Prime Gig to play its plot cards very close to the vest, making it difficult to decide what is true and what is false, this is no more than a writer's cheat. After all, withholding details from the audience is far easier than constructing a screenplay resistant to deductive reasoning powers, but as you might imagine, that makes for a less satisfying film. Even so, the set-up of The Prime Gig is intriguing. Even-handed and genuine, from the gritty blue-collar scam business to the high-rent sophistication of Grant's sales force, The Prime Gig has us wondering and enjoying as all the pieces are assembled.
When this grifter's game kicks into gear, however, the film loses its focus. Penny and Caitlin get to roll around in sexual bliss amidst the capitalist confidence games, but nothing new is revealed about the players or the game, leaving us with the same questions and the same answers. Grant may or may not be legitimate, Caitlin may or may not be playing Penny, and Penny is probably decent at heart but not clearly so. A delightfully brutal coda partially redeems The Prime Gig, but the resolution remains predictable.
Vince Vaughn (Swingers, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Zoolander) shows versatility in handling Penny. At times, he brings an appealing everyman sensibility, at others, touching sensitivity, arrogant style, or cool calculation. Ed Harris (Apollo 13, Absolute Power, A Beautiful Mind) inhabits Kelly Grant with charisma and his usual excellence. Isn't it time he won an Academy Award? Friendly but shady, a very fetching, red-headed Julia Ormond (First Knight, Sabrina, Smilia's Sense of Snow) adds welcome feminine color to the male tones of The Prime Gig as well as her own enigmatic style.
Keep an eye on the motley crew in the boiler room and you'll see many familiar faces, such as Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), George Wendt ("Cheers"), and Stephen Tobolowsky (Groundhog Day).
A merely modest sharpness and occasional edge enhancement artifacting are the only notable negative facets of an overall quality anamorphic widescreen transfer. A clean print and pleasing colors let The Prime Gig flow without distraction.
The main Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is typical for a modest, dramatic independent film. Firmly fixed in the dialogue-friendly center channel, with support from the front main speakers and little else to do, the sound of The Prime Gig meets our expectations.
There are no special features. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not even the ubiquitous theatrical trailer, promotional fluff featurette, or least consequential of extras. Even the most obscure niche film can muster something in this department, at least as long as the disc's producers care enough to show the film some respect. The Prime Gig must have no fans at New Line, else why this bare bones release? I expected better.
If you are a Vince Vaughn fan, or maybe even an Ed Harris fan, you may want The Prime Gig on your shelf ($25 list). I like both actors, particularly Harris, but even adding in the lovely Julia Ormond isn't enough to generally recommend a purchase. Otherwise, check it out at your local rental store.
I've seen better, I've seen worse.
Review content copyright © 2002 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated R