Brad Silberling's relentlessly meta new dramatic comedy 10 Items Or Less casts Morgan Freeman, a star famous for his sonorous voice and movies with Ashley Judd and Clint Eastwood, as a Morgan Freeman-like star famous for his sonorous voice and movies with Ashley Judd and Clint Eastwood. Eager to get back into film after a four-year break, Freeman decides to research a possible role in a low-budget independent movie suspiciously like 10 Items by visiting a downscale inner-city grocery store where he meets and befriends an overachieving clerk played by Spanglish's Paz Vega. An uncharacteristically impish Freeman plays a pampered star so removed from the realities of everyday life that he views a trip to Target with wide-eyed, child-like fascination. In a running gag that gradually slows to a limp, Freeman sees the entire world in acting terms, and he coaches the insecure Vega to embrace her inner leading lady. Over the brisk course of the film, Vega and Freeman dole out major revelations at regular intervals and bond across class and racial lines.
Writer-director Silberling, a television vet who's helmed such high-concept, big-budget fare as Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events and Casper, animates 10 Items with a strange combination of slightly strained whimsy and working-class realism that's never particularly realistic, and not just because its gritty, beaten-down everywoman is so staggeringly beautiful. Behind 10 Items' ultra-thin layer of indie-film grime lies an almost blinding glossiness. Vega's character is a particularly transparent sitcom version of working-class authenticity—all sass, pluck, and high-minded aspirations. The central pleasure here is watching Freeman wriggle free of the austere nobility that has characterized his post-Driving Miss Daisy career, and spoof his image in a refreshingly loose, goofy performance. Freeman is clearly enjoying himself, but his charisma and heavyweight presence can't quite redeem this featherweight concoction.