Dir: Gregory Mosher. US. 2000. 97 mins.
Prod co: Independent Pictures. US dist: Fine Line. Int'l sales: Independent Picures, tel: (1) 212 993 1200. Prod: Cary Woods, Gina Mingacci, Elliot Lewis Rosenblatt. Co-prod/scr: William Wheeler. DoP: John A. Alonzo. Prod des: Richard Hoover. Editor: James Kwei. Music: David Robbins. Main cast: Vince Vaughn (Penny), Julia Ormond (Caitlin), Ed Harris (Kelly Grant), Rory Cochrane (Joel).
Director Gregory Mosher is - potentially, at least - a US Sam Mendes: he currently runs the Lincoln Center theatre in New York, and his stage directing credits stretch from Arthur Miller to David Mamet.
His first film mixes a large dose of Mamet with a sprinkling of Usual Suspects attitude. But though it teases us effectively enough with a who's-screwing-who guessing game, the film ends up selling its audience down the river; the sting, when it comes, is oddly predictable, and the voyage of the main character is not riveting enough to make up for the shortfall. Independent Pictures specialise in difficult-to-place US indie productions - and for all its commercial aspirations, The Prime Gig is just that.
Set in the grubby world of US phone sales scams, the film follows the downs, ups and downs of salesman Penny Wise, who has the gift of wheedling trust out of gullible victims. But at least we know (boy do we know) that his heart is in the right place: his best friend is a disabled waster. Penny's talent qualifies him for a sales operation run by the Mr Big of the "room-running" world - Kelly Grant, played by Ed Harris, running on Truman Story autopilot. In true Suspects style, Mr Big has an English sidekick - though this time she's female, and so obnoxious you wonder why Penny (aka Pendelton) is so keen to hasten his own fall by getting her into bed.
Scriptwriter Wheeler is good at the wisecrack badinage of the workplace, at the unease of the American underclass - so the first part of the film, set in a squalid "you've won a free holiday" phone centre - is easily the most enjoyable. When the Kelly Grant part kicks in, the film tries to go Hollywood-clever, without having the resources to do so. An interesting debut, but Not Quite There.