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Too much talk, not any action in ‘Sunset’

‘THE Sunset LIMITED’ ★★

8 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday on HBO

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Two grizzled old men sit in a dingy apartment and argue philosophy. If that’s how I wanted to entertain myself, I’d get out my “My Dinner With Andre” action figures and have at it.

“The Sunset Limited” stars Tommy Lee Jones — identified only as “White” — as an atheistic and depressed professor. One morning, he tries to throw himself in front of the train, only to be saved by “Black” — Samuel L. Jackson, as an exuberant, faith-filled ex-con. Black brings White home with him and tries to talk some sense into him. The problem is, White makes plenty of sense himself.

“Even God gives up at some point,” White says. “There’s no ministry in hell.”

Jones also directs, and there’s no action, unless you count expressive pacing. There are some bleak background noises from the tenement and a well-worn Bible for a prop. Beyond that, it’s Jones and Jackson, head to head, for an hour and a half.

The play was written by Cormac McCarthy, author of The Road and No Country for Old Men, and apparently a close personal friend of Jones. “The Sunset Limited” was first staged in 2006 at the Steppenwolf Theatre with stars Austin Pendleton and Freeman Coffey, to reverent reviews. I imagine it is a challenging acting exercise and a fascinating debate. But like Jones’ character, I just can’t bring myself to care.

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