A Hollywood producer, Joshua (David Moscow), flies to Guatemala for a day to look for a recluse American actor, Jack Palladin (Ben Gazzara), to convince him to take a small role in an upcoming remake. What is, at first glance, an obnoxious mission meant for an intern, ends up revealing the main character’s deep-rooted emotional connections to the exiled star.
Looking for Palladin‘s first half is a refreshing portrait of an idyllic elsewhere that seems to have escaped globalization’s commodify-or-die edicts. Jack Palladin lives happily as a restaurant cook, surrounded by jaded expatriates and Guatemalans who protect his anonymity in the way Faro Island’s inhabitants may have refused to share Ingmar Bergman’s street address. But once the suspicious tranquility of Antigua has been idealized, the film turns to the very Hollywood formulae that it seems to mock with the producer’s character: Characters reveal unexpected kinship links, long lost sons meet their fathers, and soliloquies about dying mothers are recited in somber, breathy voices.
Apart from Gazzara’s brilliant, effortless performance, everything is a little cartoonish in Looking for Palladin, from the Hollywood executive’s astonishment at foreigners’ inability to speak English to the transportation system in this “third world country,” filled with passive, apathetic Latinos staring out windows and manhandling their livestock. Gazzara, a throat cancer and heart attack survivor who has been mostly overlooked by Hollywood, is the perfect actor to play Palladin in his scoffing at a system that uses and discards—and reuses—its ambassadors as if they were lifeless stock. But his nuanced delivery, along with some great secondary performances by American and Guatamalan actors alike, further underscores the flimsy script and the one-dimensional depiction of his surroundings.
The Antigua of the film reads like a peaceful, anachronistic Buenos Aires immune to social unrest or the ubiquitous invasion of personal technology. There is, surprisingly, a refreshing documentary drive behind the shots exploring the city, even if director Andrzej Krakowski rarely takes off his ethnocentric lens. The formulaic exigencies of the narrative always foreclose the possibility for true engagement with this absolutely non-American—yet peopled with well-educated, too-cool-for-America Americans—limbo space.