Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, and Alessandro Nivola in Best Laid Plans (1999)


(director: Mike Barker; screenwriter: Ted Griffin; cinematographer: Ben Seresin; editor: Sloane Klevin; cast: Alessandro Nivola (Nick), Reese Witherspoon (Lissa), Josh Brolin (Bryce), Rocky Carroll (Bad Ass Dude), Michael G. Hagerty (Charlie), Terrence Dashon Howard (Jimmy), Jamie Marsh (Barry); Runtime: 92; Fox Searchlight; 1999)

“The attempt of this B-film to be a convincing film noir never materializes…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Nick (Alessandro Nivola) and Bryce (Josh Brolin) are friends who haven’t seen each other since their college days. When Bryce arrives in Nick’s hometown of Tropico, some place that could be “Anywhere,” U.S.A., Bryce shows Nick the beautiful ultra-modern posh house where he is house-sitting rent free and where all he has to do is water the plants. The two later on meet in a bar and an attractive girl also enters, and the drunken Bryce gets to know her as Kathy (Reese Witherspoon). The next scene is of Nick receiving a frantic call from Bryce at 2 a.m. that he should hurry over to his place.

Upon arriving Nick learns from Bryce that the girl accuses him of date rape. When Kathy tried to leave Bryce beats her up, has her gagged and bound in chains to a pool table downstairs in the recreation room, and finds while going through her purse that she is underage. Bryce is afraid that he will be accused of statutory rape, even if it comes out that she was willing. Bryce laments that his life is ruined, that he will never get tenure in the college teaching job, and that his career is over. He asks his friend Nick, “What should I do?”

When Nick is alone with the girl we learn that this was a setup and that Kathy is Lissa, and that they planned to steal a Lincoln note valued at some $200,000 from Bryces’s rented house because Nick is in deep trouble after he agreed to help some workplace friends out in a setup robbery that backfired. She does it to help the one she fell in love with. The film flashes back four months earlier and the viewers are fully apprised of what led to this situation.

Nick came back to town to take care of his sick father. When his father died, he shows no remorse and becomes bitterly disappointed that his father’s promised inheritance has been seized by the IRS for back taxes owed. Lissa is someone he meets while in a veterinary clinic, who falls for the good-looking guy and puts her trust in him. Bryce, on the other hand, is a spoiled rich kid who has a history of ratting on friends, and is a constant whiner. The story revolves around these three uninteresting characters.

The attempt of this B-film to be a convincing film noir never materializes, as the film looks more like a sophomoric attempt to imitate the genre than the real thing. I had no feelings for the slimy characters.

In the dumbest scene, a violent drug dealer (Carroll) tortures those who robbed his stash of cocaine. He later explains why he is a criminal, as if he was giving a lesson in economics. The film’s attempt at humor eluded me, despite its best laid plans.