So the joke goes like this: A guy answers a classified ad for a "Talking Dog for Sale" and winds up in the country where a crusty old farmer tells him the dog's in the backyard. In the yard he encounters a handsome Golden Lab.
"You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the canine replies, and proceeds to tell his story. Discovering his talent when he was still a pup, he volunteered his services to the CIA. The agency gave him assignments around the world, sitting in on private meetings with spies and world leaders, who naturally wouldn't suspect a canine of eavesdropping. Later, he joined Homeland Security, listening in on suspicious passengers in airports.
Eventually, after winning many commendations, he retired, got married and had a bunch of puppies.
The amazed listener returns to the farm house and asks the farmer what he wants for the dog.
"Ten bucks," says the farmer.
"Ten dollars?"answers the man, sounding like John McEnroe in a rental car commercial. "That dog is amazing. Why are you selling him so cheap?"
"Because he's a liar," answers the farmer. "He never did any of that stuff."
Seeing "The Ghost Writer" reminded me of the joke.
After Matt Damon in "The Green Zone," it's the second movie in two weeks exploring the central role lying plays in the running of the CIA and other governmental bodies in the so-called "intelligence" business.
Equally worrisome is wondering, in the choice between the American people and multinational corporations creating the latest weapons systems before creating wars to use them in, just whose side the CIA is on.
Directed by Roman Polanski in suspenseful Alfred Hitchcock fashion, "The Ghost Writer" is Ewan McGregor. His plays a clever British scribe hired to liven up the memoirs of a Tony Blair-like former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the curious death of the first ghost writer.
It's curious because the first writer became an actual ghost either by jumping or falling in an alcoholic stupor, off the Cape Cod ferry running to Martha's Vineyard. That's where the former prime minister has bunkered down, amidst war-criminal charges from his actions in the Iraq War.
Questions hang as heavy as the moody rain and fog over the rugged island setting. Considering that director Polanski is legally prohibited from setting foot in the U.S., the first question is, where did they film those scenes? (The answer is Germany.)
But as the war-crime charges mount and protesters start showing up outside the gate, more mysteries arise the deeper the ghost writer delves into the manuscript. It all adds to the impression of deceptions built on deceptions, so that even after you think you've solved the mystery, doubts linger.
"The Ghost Writer" continues an impromptu Pierce Brosnan film festival of late, as the personable Maui Film Festival honoree proves there is life after James Bond. Showing himself as much an actor as a star, he's currently got movies for all ages playing: "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" for kids, "Remember Me" for teens and this one for thinking adults.
Adapted from Robert Harris' novel "The Ghost," this is one of those movies that requires you to be smarter than you actually are, just to keep up with the topical allusions and current events, much less, the CIA's shadowy way of doing business.
If your brain's not up for the challenge, "The Bounty Hunter" - another movie that opened on island screens last weekend - is just the ticket to send your IQ in the other direction.
With Gerard Butler playing the title role, trying to bring in his bail-jumping journalist ex-wife (Jennifer Aniston), this script calls for major dumbing down just to follow along on their goofy road trip that puts them on various sides of the law.
Considering the flinty way Jennifer has of making eye contact with the camera and making you think she's batting those blues at you, and considering that she's coming to Maui in April for a month of shooting with Adam Sandler on the new comedy "Just Go With It," you want to take her by the hand and say, "Jen, what were you thinking ?"
Actually, you just want to take her by the hand, period. What I would tell her is there's nothing wrong with "The Bounty Hunter," really, that a smart script and a different co-star couldn't fix.
But as it stands,"The Bounty Hunter" reminds me of the talking dog joke, too.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.