It’s never an encouraging sign when a film feels the need to broadcast a lead’s more admirable qualities as if the audience isn’t likely to notice them otherwise. So it’s more than a little ominous when Wendy Glenn, the eponymous female lead in Mercy, repeatedly lauds the appeal of male lead/screenwriter/producer Scott Caan to let audiences know that, in her mind, at least, he falls on the right side of the “charming asshole” equation. Audiences won’t be as sure.
Scott doesn’t play a human being so much as a walking hunk of independent-film clichés. He’s a successful novelist who writes extensively about true love, yet seldom sticks around past a quick-and-dirty one-night stand. He’s a womanizer and a misogynist, but deep down, he’s a true romantic who just needs the love of the right woman to win his soul back. Glenn plays the dream woman in question: She’s a sharp-tongued critic who undermines Caan’s seemingly impregnable self-confidence by panning his latest novel. Caan has finally found someone he can’t seduce and abandon, but is he ready to give up his tomcatting ways for good?
Mercy’s plot hinges on Caan being so blown away by Glenn’s beauty and wit that he undergoes a rapid evolution from shallow hack to deeply passionate, engaged, gifted scribe. But Glenn scores so little screen time and makes such a negligible impression that most of her role seems to have been lost in the editing room. With Glenn offscreen for huge sections of the film, Mercy devolves into yet another navel-gazing drama about a glib cad redeemed by the love of a good woman. This is Caan’s third produced screenplay (after his writing-directing projects Dallas 362 and The Dog Problem), but it ultimately feels like the cinematic equivalent of a bad first novel by a neophyte who took the dictum to write what you know way too literally.