Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) works for a company and has invented a process. This process will make a very large amount of money - it will take the Japanese several years to catch up. He and friend and colleague George (Ricky Jay), travel to a Caribbean island with company secretary Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon) to present it to the bosses. They're impressed. A stranger in the form of Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) turns up on a seaplane - or does he? Jimmy is rich and gets on the wrong side of Joe after offering $1000 for a cheap camera used to take a picture of Susan with Jimmy plus mystery woman in the background. Jimmy makes up and asks Joe to take a book to his tennis-loving sister in New York. Thus Joe becomes entangled in a Hitchcockian world of intrigue where the 'Macguffin' that is the process, is at stake.
Joe is anxious that he is reimbursed for the work he has done and is concerned that his bosses are about to stitch him up. Jimmy meanwhile has introduced Joe to his lifestyle of Swiss bank accounts and exclusive clubs. He convinces him to be wary of his boss (Ben Gazzara) and when lawyers come in to discuss Joe's contract, he smells a rat. Unfortunately Jimmy is not the friend or person he seems and Joe believes that he is out to steal the process from him. He contacts the FBI, but is there anyone he can trust?. George is murdered and the process taken. Perhaps the amorous Susan can help?
The Spanish Prisoner is a confidence trick from a century ago which still persists today in the form of emails from Nigerians. David Mamet's film is contrived and far-fetched, and once you realise this you can enjoy it's implausibility. The process is never revealed. Things are written on a blackboard that's deliberately out-of-shot and a foghorn sounds when Jimmy explains what he has done with it (straight out of North by Northwest). Mamet fans will recognise the slightly odd repeated dialogue mostly from his wife - the bright-eyed Rebecca Pidgeon. Campbell Scott is a solid and cool actor, and with Steve Martin in a serious role, nothing can go wrong. A rewarding film with an off-key and mature feel to it. Music by Carter Burwell.