Who doesn’t love Morgan Freeman — the slow-cooked, grizzled sexiness, the honeyed vocal cadences that coat stories about convicts and penguins and boxers with equal glazes of gravitas? Yes, yes, we love him, but the slight and persistently condescending odd-couple indie drama 10 Items or Less relies far too smugly on his statesmanlike charms in a movie that assumes an insatiable appetite for irresistible Freemanitude.
With freckles and dignity so recognizable that the character is called, simply and coyly, Him, the star plays someone an awful lot like Morgan Freeman — or at least like a famous and well-respected veteran actor who once starred in a crappy movie with Ashley Judd and is now researching a role in an indie pic. Wandering into a downmarket L.A. grocery store where he intends to study the manager, Him instead becomes captivated by the spirited cash-register clerk working the express lane: She goes by the unlikely name of Scarlet, and she’s played by Andalusia-born Paz Vega, surely the unlikeliest European hire, among plentiful local applicants for L.A. grocery-clerk positions, since Vega played L.A.’s unlikeliest ”Mexican” maid in the awful Spanglish. (Like her compatriot Penélope Cruz, the star of Julio Medem’s Sex and Lucía has so far been ill-used by Hollywood.)
Naturally, Him and Scarlet strike up a warm, temporary friendship, during which he gives her actorly tips to boost her absurdly low self-confidence at an upcoming job interview, and she gives him advice on how to live life with Spanish gusto. Along the way, he helpfully buys her a low-cut blouse at Target, a particularly class-crass episode during which the alleged pampered celebrity marvels at the store’s common-folk bargains and chats up fat ”regular” shoppers. I don’t know if it’s ickier to assume that writer-director Brad Silberling (Moonlight Mile) thinks the culture-clash jokes he pushes in 10 Items or Less are charming because they’re earnest, or because they’re tongue-in-cheek. Either way, this sale is void.