Freeman enters the express line

Special to The Times

Having portrayed a burned-out cop, a lethal pimp and the president of the United States, among a variety of other characters, Morgan Freeman takes on one of his more curious roles -- a jovial actor.

In the slice-of-life comedy "10 Items or Less" (not to be confused with the TBS sitcom of the same title), Freeman's unnamed but apparently well-known movie star is contemplating ending a four-year screen absence by playing a grocery store manager in an independent film. While researching the part in a Carson market, he finds himself stranded without a cellphone or transportation. A capable and beautiful but prickly and guarded clerk (Paz Vega) agrees to take him home after she completes her errands, and the actor's one-hour field trip becomes a full-day immersion into another person's life.

It's a simple setup, and writer-director Brad Silberling ("City of Angels") doesn't try to do too much with it. He gives his actors room to breathe with leisurely paced scenes and relaxed editing. That's a good idea when you've got a cast of this caliber. (For an indie, "10 Items" flexes some star power with amusing cameos, including one by the ubiquitous Bobby Cannavale.)

Freeman, who also executive produced, seems to be having a good time. The movie certainly enjoys riffing on his real-life career -- there are references to his character working with Ashley Judd and Clint Eastwood and to his narrating skills. In "10 Items," the fictional actor is in a constant state of discovery, a gregarious person coming out of hibernation and rediscovering the world.

Even though he's saddled with some stereotypical behavior -- he's relentlessly "actorly" -- it's such a pleasure to watch him find his way that all is forgiven. But if the character is this famous and obsessed with attention and craft, how could he not work for four years?

Vega is also fun to watch. The well-written role and the Spanish star's improving English skills afford her a far wider range of expression than in her previous American effort, "Spanglish." Her Scarlet is multidimensional, with believable highs and lows.

At only 82 minutes, the film does feel like a trip through the express lane. The characters have journeys, but fortunately for the audience, there are no complicated plot twists or catharses rent from the darkest parts of the soul. "10 Items or Less" is not deep, but it's a charming enough diversion to spend a day with two likable people.


MPAA rating: R for language. Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Playhouse, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500; Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino (818) 981-9811; Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (310) 274-6869.

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