This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Florida is the ideal state for film noir. Not the Florida of retirement villas and golf condos, but the Florida of the movies, filled with Spanish moss and decaying mansions, sweaty trophy wives and dog-race gamblers, chain-smoking assistant DAs and alcoholic newspaper reporters. John D. Macdonald is its Raymond Chandler and Carl Hiaasen would be its Elmore Leonard, if Leonard hadn't gotten there first.
Noir is founded on atmosphere, and Florida has it: tacky theme bars on the beach, humid nights, ceiling fans, losers dazed by greed, the sense of dead bodies rotting out back in the Everglades. (Louisiana has even more atmosphere, but noir needs a society where people are surprised by depravity; Louisiana takes it for granted.) ''Palmetto'' is the latest exercise in Florida Noir, joining ''Key Largo,'' ''Body Heat,'' ''A Flash of Green,'' ''Cape Fear,'' ''Striptease,'' and ''Blood & Wine.'' The movie has elements of the genre and lacks only pacing and plausibility. You wait through scenes that unfold with maddening deliberation, hoping for a payoff--and when it comes, you feel cheated. Watching it, I was more than ever convinced that Bob Rafelson's ''Blood & Wine'' was the movie that got away in 1997--a vastly superior Florida Noir (with a Jack Nicholson performance that humbles his work in ''As Good As It Gets'').
Both films depend on our sense of rich, eccentric people living in big houses that draw the attention of poor people. Both involve deception and hidden identities. Both heroes are once-respectable outsiders, driven to amateurish crime by desperation. Both involve older men blinded to danger by younger women with beckoning cleavage. ''Blood & Wine'' is the film that works. ''Palmetto'' is more like a first draft.
Woody Harrelson stars as Harry Barber, a newspaper reporter who tried to expose corruption in the town of Palmetto and was framed and sent to prison. After two years his conviction is overturned, and he's released--by a judge who renders the verdict over closed-circuit TV. When Harry starts screaming that he wants his two years back, the judge dismisses him by clicking the channel-changer.