A recently released ex-con gets involved in a fake kidnapping scheme that turns very real.
Palmetto sounds like an ice-cream, but it's a corrupt Florida backwater where the sunny skies contrast with the dark doings of the inhabitants. Adapted from the vintage James Hadley Chase crime novel Just Another Sucker, and moved into the present day, it stars Harrelson as Harry Barber, a bitter ex-journalist who's served a prison stretch having been framed for a crime he did not commit. Harry's a born fall guy. Hanging out in a bar, he accepts the proposal of mystery woman Rhea (Shue) for a can't-fail scam - a sting of her wealthy, elderly, terminally ill husband - that, naturally, goes horribly wrong and sees Harry way over his head in kidnapping, murder and double-crosses.
Harry's narration is in the cynical, worldly wise voice of his pulp predecessors, but his hindsight commentary is at odds with his frankly idiotic behaviour as the patsy striding into every obvious trap like a panto naf. Despite having sexbomb Gershon at home as his loyal, bread-winning girlfriend, Harry's trouser eruptions put him at the mercy of the hopelessly wholesome Shue's pouting, undulating impersonation of a femme fatale and the leggy temptation of her crazy, wild-child stepdaughter (Chloe Sevigny, the stand-out of the piece).
Everyone loves a good noir thriller, and periodically movie buff filmmakers like The Tin Drum auteur Schlsndorff (a lifelong Billy Wilder enthusiast) are touchingly keen to have a go at re-creating the magic of the genre classics. Unfortunately it seldom really works. There is nothing reprehensible about Palmetto; it simply falls short of conviction because you're too aware you've seen it all a hundred times before.
The film is sort of like Double Indemnity, sort of like The Big Sleep, and sort of like half-a-dozen Robert Mitchum vehicles, without approaching any of them for atmosphere, dialogue or characterisation.