Picks and Pans Review: Spartan

updated 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, Tia Texada, Kristen Bell, William H. Macy

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When did writer-director David Mamet (Heist) start writing and directing Arnold Schwarzenegger movies? Although California's current governor doesn't appear in this disappointingly hollow conspiracy thriller, he would have been right at home here. Heck, he would have improved it. Instead, we have Kilmer in the role of a U.S. military special operations officer who is brutal when necessary. He just can't bring the right tough guy joie de vivre to such exchanges as the following:

Roughed up bad guy: "I think you broke my arm."

Kilmer: (smashing bad guy's arm against a metal Dumpster) "Now it's broken."

Spartan is one of those movies filled with mechanical twists and turns—the plot has Kilmer trying to find a VIP college student who has been kidnapped—which seem to exist simply to take up screen time. Buried deep in here somewhere is a meditation on what happens when a by-the-book guy discovers the book is full of lies, but this movie is too by-the-book to go there. (R)

THRILLER

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