Ed Harris, Julia Ormond, and Vince Vaughn in The Prime Gig (2000)


(director: Gregory Mosher; screenwriter: William Wheeler; cinematographer: John A. Alonzo; editor: James Y. Kwei; music: David Robbins; cast: Vince Vaughn (Penny Wise), Ed Harris (Kelly Grant), Julia Ormond (Caitlin Carlson), Rory Cochrane (Joel), Wallace Shawn (Gene), Stephen Tobolowsky (Mick), Shishir Kurup (Sujat), George Wendt (Archie); Runtime: 97; Independent Pictures/Fine Line; 2000)
“The film didn’t move me one way or the other.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Telemarketers bilk the American public for about 40 billion dollars a year, so somebody must not be hanging up on these scum of the earth predators. These con artists become the theme of Gregory Mosher’s debut film and it comes after he directed on Broadway some 25 years ago the ultimate in traveling salesmen plays — “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “The Prime Gig” is similar in nature to other films about telephone scams, such as the recent “The Boiler Room.” This film had some heart in its story, but didn’t have a snappy dialogue or a story that was enticing. Yet it remains a solid work because it spells out as clearly as it could how untrustworthy telemarketers are, and how any sensible person should just hang up on them. But they seem to find the lonely and those whose greed gets the better of their rational thought, and when that happens they are able to use their charms to heartlessly take their vic’s money.

The story’s ‘main man’ is Penny Wise (Vaughn), a wise guy with a heart. He loves to sell and is first seen working for a shady outfit hustling tourist promotions to Hawaii. He’s the big fish in the small pond, as the other salesmen hustlers such as Gene and Archie are born losers. His boss Mick is seen as a manipulator, but whose strings are pulled at home by his bossy wife and at work by the number one man in the firm who sets the company policy, Lloyd.

When Penny’s not hustling he shares his pad with his handicapped friend Joel (Cochrane), and takes care of the loudmouth he has a warm spot. Joel is pushy and outspoken but he’s unable to hustle others, and he sometimes hangs with winos.

When this scam job falls through and Penny is not paid his commissions because the firm went bust, he’s hustled by an attractive scam artist, Caitlin (Ormond), to join another bogus operation that is more polished and deadly on the hustling angle. It’s a venture capital company selling shares of a potential gold mine in Arizona, which might or not be real. This business is run by the notorious scam artist legend Kelly Grant (Harris), who just got out of prison for insider trading.

Penny takes the offer because he can’t resist the challenge of selling and becoming rich, even though he believes this is a shady deal. He thinks he outsmarts the master hustler by getting his commission upfront. In his last gig, the not for prime one, he got burnt when the company offered him a rubber check upon his departure.

Kelly lures his salesmen with an airplane ride to see the Arizona gold mine and with promises of making them all wealthy, and he outfits their central office in a classy Japanese-style of decorations. In the last minute Penny saves his job by a tough sell approach with a vulnerable senior citizen. And soon, he becomes the most successful salesman of the crew and receives the accolades of Kelly and the affection of Caitlin. He is lured by the boss’ sexy girl into a serious affair. She’s able to still be the ruthless assistant to Kelly, but when she’s with Penny a tender romance blossoms.

Against his better judgment, but swept up in the buzz of closing a sale, Penny gets an elderly widow who is lonely to put her life savings in the gold mine. The film finishes with a surprise ending that really shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

The movie was scripted by William Wheeler. It has all the flavorings of an indie feature with not enough appeal to attract a mainstream audience. The film didn’t move me one way or the other, but it was an honest effort and if you want to see a flick about telemarketers this one will do.


REVIEWED ON 12/11/2001 GRADE: C+