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Review: Gadgets a go-go in 'Enemy of the State'

Web posted on: Tuesday, December 01, 1998 1:43:40 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- I think it might be instructive to one day review a movie like "Enemy of the State" without actually seeing it. The knowledge that it's produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott ("Days of Thunder," "Crimson Tide," and a score of other over-elegant hack jobs) immediately suggests the staccato string of images that you'll be subjecting yourself to, as well as the exact texture of the photography.

As in every other Tony Scott movie, lights are there to be dimmed. No one -- not a sheriff, not a housewife, not a CIA director -- will be very enthusiastic about switching on a lamp. That way, intense (or even boring) conversations can be played out against a backdrop illuminated only by the occasional shaft of streaming, dust-filled incandescence. Or maybe the place will glow midnight blue in the middle of the day, the source of this blueness being a mystery to everyone except Scott and his beer commercial-obsessed cinematographer.

Theatrical preview for "Enemy of the State"

Windows Media: 28k or 56k
Real: 28k or 56k

Will Smith (as Will Smith pretending to be a lawyer) runs through all kinds of buildings, alleyways, and even underground water ducts during this movie. If you weren't looking closely, though, you'd think he was trapped in a massive Beverly Hills nightclub.

More running than a track meet

Smith is forever hauling ass -- honestly, Billy Crudup didn't run this much when he played Steve Prefontaine -- because this is what people call a "Hitchcockian" thriller. That's not to imply, however, that it shares with Hitchcock's work a predisposition towards smarts or relative subtlety.

No, it's Hitchcockian because a bunch of bad guys are persistently two steps behind our hero, and he doesn't have any idea why.

Every now and then he gets asked intriguing questions that he doesn't know the answer to, and the people who are trying to catch him have to bellow a variation of "Drat!" or "Curses!" when he climbs out a hotel room window and takes off running again.

I know what you're thinking, though -- Bruckheimer and Scott are at the controls. The entire thing couldn't possibly consist of a man running. Where's the hardware?!!

Tons of hardware

Well, you get your hardware, just like you know you're going to. Tons of it. Every other shot contains some kind of implement or computerized screen readout that screams high-tech, Big Brother, blah-blah-blah.

"Enemy of the State" is getting better (although far from glowing) notices than the usual Bruckheimer cinematic choke-hold because it purports to be about something. That something would be the government's ability to retrieve the life story of, and then foolishly pursue, any citizen who they feel deserves to have several million dollars worth of gadgetry focused on him.

Smith, as you might have already guessed, is worth the expenditure. In order to generate noise and movement (apparently Bruckheimer's definition of a movie), Smith has unknowingly been slipped that most popular of all modern plot devices -- a computer disk with valuable information on it.

The former college classmate who slipped it to him is played by Jason Lee, who actually winds up getting creamed by a fire engine. I viewed this truck-to-body impact as long-overdue retribution for Lee's annoyingly weak-tea performance in "Chasing Amy." It was all I could do to keep from pumping my fists in the air when he got nailed.

Jon Voight, playing his 15th consecutive overzealous authority figure, is a government specialist who's got a crack team of computer geeks at his disposal. And you can bet your bottom dollar that those short, goofy-looking smart guys are gonna nab Smith while making as flashy a commotion as technologically possible, or this isn't a $100 million action movie.

Per usual, hero's 'the best'

Cue the satellite shots! Over and over again, scenes begin with an orbiter circling the earth (you gotta show the hardware), then Scott cuts to rapidly changing camera views that collapse down to Smith running in one of those ludicrously lit alleyways ... or dashing through traffic ... or hanging from a balcony. It actually wears you out after a while. Just like Scott's other movies, this one plays more like a hugely conceived wind-sprint. Rest periods are few and far between.

Another thing about a Bruckheimer film -- if a man has a job to do, he's not just good at it, he's the best. It doesn't matter if he's a fighter pilot, a race car driver, or a submarine captain; these people are driven to frothing with their virile skills. So Smith isn't simply being pursued like he would be in a "regular" movie; he's receiving a world-class, crisply executed invasion of privacy that the whole family can enjoy.

Much of the film consists of the aforementioned geeks gasping at TV screens and assuring each other "it's already been taken care of" when somebody comes up with a technique to further harass poor old Will.

Smith's clothing (unfortunately, for both him and us) has secretly been covered with teeny-weeny cameras and sophisticated listening devices, so he can't shift his weight to the other foot without somebody digitally documenting it. My favorite line in the movie is when Smith gets on an elevator and one of the techies actually shouts out, "We've got vertical movement!" Forget vertical; push the right button and that satellite could probably pick up a bowel movement.

This goes on for far too long, just as I expected it to. Then, out of nowhere, Gene Hackman shows up, playing a sarcastic techno-whiz who's going to help Smith out of his predicament. Hackman, as always, is absolutely great. It's a wonder the movie doesn't reject him like an incompatible skin graft. This is followed by another hour or so of artificially hot pursuit, coupled with the requisite pounding soundtrack.

Lisa Bonet is also in it, by the way, still trying desperately to act. She never gets taken out by a fire engine, but at least I still have something to look forward to.

"Enemy of the State" contains profanity and swooshing, MTV-style violence. BONUS FOOLISHNESS: Get a load of the "lingerie boutique" that Smith visits! It looks like the villain's lair in a James Bond movie. Rated R. 140 minutes, making it one minute longer than "2001: A Space Odyssey" while covering several million years less territory.

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