"ENEMY OF THE STATE"|
128 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, November 20, 1998
Directed by Tony Scott
Starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Regina King, Loren Dean, Jake Busey, Barry Pepper & Gabriel Byrne
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 30%|
LETTERBOX: COULDN'T HURT
This all-flash, little-substance production will have a hard time holding your interest on the small screen where the slap-dash editing, explosions and soundtrack-driven action won't be overwhelming enough to distract from the fact that it has little else going for it.
Just another cookie-cutter action flick from Jerry Bruckheimer
A good movie script is like a blueprint, with a strong story as the foundation and multi-dimensional characters as the load-bearing walls. You can't make a good movie without them. Dialogue is the plumbing and wiring that makes the building functional. Editing, photography, effects, costumes, et al, are like wallpaper and paint -- take them away and the building might feel unfinished, but they're largely aesthetic.
In movies produced by Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon," "Con Air," "The Rock"), the wallpaper and paint have to hold the whole building together. His pictures depend on action sequences and explosions, then add machine gun editing, a ear-splitting soundtrack and visual gimmicks (gratuitous, unnecessary shots of satellites in orbit, for example), then, if nobody working on the film has anything better to do, characters are added. But only if the movie isn't pre-packaged with a star who has a built-in screen persona. Say, Bruce Willis or Will Smith.
Jerry Bruckheimer would make a lousy architect.
Bruckheimer's latest house of cards is "Enemy of the State," starring Smith as a smooth, jiggy Joe Average hotshot lawyer who finds himself playing hide and seek with a nefarious National Security Agency administrator after being slipped a computer disk that contains video of a political assassination.
After pausing to introduce a handful of stock characters (the wife with an endearing 'tude, the ubiquitous geek squad who crack wise while operating the movie's high profile gadgets), "Enemy" rushes headlong into what amounts to a 90-minute chase scene, so relentless that when it pauses -- even for 60 seconds of dialogue -- it feels like the film broke and you're sitting around waiting for the projector to be re-threaded.
The plot involves NSA director Jon Voight covering up the killing -- caught on the video Smith is saddled with -- of a senator who opposed a telecommunications security bill that would allow the spy agency to invade privacy to its heart's content (Bruckheimer's political statements are as subtle as his explosions).
Directed by Tony Scott ("Crimson Tide," "The Fan"), "Enemy of the State" has something of saving grace in Gene Hackman, who plays a justifiably paranoid ex-spook that helps Smith stay one step ahead of the NSA. He this movie's equivalent of the Mel Gibson character in "Conspiracy Theory" -- another recent entry in the "they're out to get me" genre.
Hackman's introduction leads to the misleading promise of a clever third act, in which he and Smith turn the tables on their pursuers with store-bought bugging equipment. This is the most enjoyable part of the movie, as the victims steer the bad guys toward a run-in with a mob boss that lawyer Smith had met with during the prologue, but it only lasts a disappointing 10 minutes.
If only all of "Enemy of the State" had been as clever as those 10 minutes. If only Bruckheimer movies weren't so loaded with recycled, paint-by-numbers story elements and catch phrase dialogue. If only the characters exercised common sense.
Why does Voight set about ruining Smith's life instead of just watching him, waiting for the video to turn up? Why doesn't Smith seem to grasp the concept of going underground includes not making phone calls home, where his phone call will most certainly be traced?
And as long as I'm on a rant, why do these kind of movies always end with the hero's life returning to normal without any repercussions or as much as a debriefing by the government?
Bruckheimer's fans will not have the problems I had with "Enemy of the State." If you liked "Armageddon," "The Rock" and "Con Air," buy a ticket and have fun. But if you expect more from a movie than chase scenes and cars that explode at the slightest provocation -- if you want any kind of layered storytelling or character development -- this movie is not for you. Come to think of it, if you do expect those things, you probably haven't even read this far.