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A little too mysterious

People like David Mamet because he writes well and elevates movie dialog to a sophisticated level. He doesn't explain things in obvious ways; you have to listen closely to what the characters say to understand. Spartan plops you right into the midst of a wild ride that swerves through seemingly unrelated territory: the netherworld of the secret service, human trafficking rings, and the stress of growing up in a political family. Val Kilmer plays a hardnosed military man who works for an elite, clandestine force countering intrigue and espionage. He prefers to act, rather than think about what he does or why he does it. When the president's daughter goes missing, he and his team attempt to find her before the press discovers her disappearance. Aiding Kilmer is Derek Luke, a novice on the special ops team whose camaraderie throws him off guard. Their team is headed by secret service operatives Ed O'Neill and William H. Macy, who bark orders and appear to know more than they let on. True to Mamet's form, Spartan (the title is an oblique reference to King Leonidas of Sparta) unveils its plot slowly, never revealing too much at any time. Clarity is further hampered by the characters' lingo, which would baffle any eavesdropper. Despite the interesting setup and storyline, Spartan remains a ho-hum thriller. Besides Kilmer's wooden delivery, which detracts from Mamet's good writing, there's little payoff once Kilmer finds his girl. The kidnapped daughter's fascinating backstory is never developed and the root cause of her disappearance is never satisfactorily reconciled. Believability isn't the issue; emotional investment in the story and characters is.

Stars: 3 out of 5