2 items from 1998
In the invasive world presented by "Enemy of the State", Big Brother isn't just watching, he's monitoring every single twitch and blink of an eye.
A nimbly paced techno-thriller about a noble attorney who has unwittingly become the target of a corrupt intelligence agent, the picture is something of a conspiracy theory movie sampler platter -- serving up reheated morsels of "Three Days of the Condor", "The Net", "Conspiracy Theory" and, most notably, "The Conversation" -- without being particularly nourishing in its own right.
Still, while the involvement factor isn't all it could have been, the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production (Bruckheimer began developing the project with his late partner in 1991) comes across as a heck of a lot smarter than the summer's noisy "Armageddon" and "Con Air" before it. The resulting, comparatively old-fashioned approach to moviemaking will likely skew to older audiences, while the presence of Will Smith should ensure a strong showing from the younger contingent.
It won't reach the dizzying boxoffice heights of Smith's past two Fourth of July releases, but "Enemy of the State" will likely be a solid fourth-quarter performer for Buena Vista.
After keeping the world safe from nasty aliens in his past couple of heroic outings, Smith tries a more somber, everyman role as Robert Clayton Dean, an on-the-way-up lawyer whose promising career and happy home life are sabotaged when he unknowingly comes into possession of a piece of filmed evidence that would implicate National Security Agency official Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voight) in the murder of a U.S. congressman.
Not knowing what he has -- or even where it is -- Dean nevertheless finds himself ruthlessly pursued in a high-tech game of cat and mouse, in which the cat has access to some pretty impressive satellite tracking devices.
Just when it appears Dean is running out of places to run, he hooks up with the mysterious Brill (Gene Hackman), a gruff, cloistered former intelligence operative who helps Dean reclaim his life.
While director Tony Scott choreographs all the pursuing with sleek, state-of-the-art efficiency, the picture's plotting is pure Pac-Man. The script, credited to original screenwriter David Marconi, takes a blandly linear approach to the genre, saving any real twists and turns until the crowd-rousing, table-turning ending.
And because the bad guys' methods of surveillance are revealed from the outset, the viewer is robbed of sharing in Smith's growing paranoia, which puts a serious dent in the identification factor.
Speaking of Smith, he makes an effective John Q. Public, but in going for something more serious, he sacrifices the kick-ass spirit that has made him such a hit with audiences. It isn't until the late arrival of Hackman, looking like he's doing a tribute to Karl Malden circa "The Streets of San Francisco", that Smith finally finds a lively sparring partner.
Elsewhere among the cast, Voight is in cool, heavy mode as the rogue NSA official; Regina King is good as Smith's strong, opinionated wife; and young actors Jake Busey (Gary's kid) and Scott Caan (James' kid) are among the thugs that make up Voight's elite killing team.
As expected, production values are top-notch and appreciably quieter than recent Bruckheimer efforts. Dan Mindel's camera work is crisp, clean and unfussy; editor Chris Lebenzon's cutting is sufficiently rapid without the feeling that a machete was involved in its execution.
Likewise the score by former Yes member Trevor Rabin, which underscores the pulse-pounding movement minus the eardrum-pounding overkill.
ENEMY OF THE STATE
Touchstone Pictures presents
a Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production
in association with Scott Free Prods.
A film by Tony Scott
Director: Tony Scott
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenwriter: David Marconi
Executive producers: Chad Oman, James W. Skotchdopole, Andrew Z. Davis
Director of photography: Dan Mindel
Production designer: Benjamin Fernandez
Editor: Chris Lebenzon
Costume designer: Marlene Stewart
Music: Trevor Rabin, Harry Gregson-Williams
Casting: Victoria Thomas
Robert Clayton Dean: Will Smith
Brill: Gene Hackman
Thomas Brian Reynolds: Jon Voight
Carla Dean: Regina King
Agent Hicks: Loren Dean
Drug: Jake Busey
Agent David Pratt: Barry Pepper
Daniel Zavitz: Jason Lee
"Brill": Gabriel Byrne
Rachel Banks: Lisa Bonet
Running time --127 minutes
MPAA rating: R
"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" surely has its niche among mature black females, but the spicy, touching romantic comedy about a 40-year-old black woman's midlife rut should win wider appeal among intelligent moviegoers burned out by car crashes, explosions and comets.
Adapted from Terry McMillan's ribald, heartfelt novel and starring Angela Bassett in the title role, "Stella"'s got plenty of style and brains. It's a sexier, sassier version of Hollywood's old-time romancers that surely will woo respectable end-of-summer boxoffice for 20th Century Fox. But the smart film's natural groove may be on the video circuit, where it will score heavily as a Saturday night rental.
Stella has everything -- great job, great kid, lots of money -- except a life. She's an overachiever, given to long hours at her investment job where she's making a tidy living and doing all the right things, from jogging to looking out for her sisters and friends.
But all the bucks and success have come with a price: She's divorced and hasn't had a date in ages. Available guys, to Stella's critical eye, are either duds or inappropriate. In short, she's a bit of a drudge and, undeniably, somewhat of a control freak.
Luckily, Stella is smart enough to have a crazy, more adventurous friend. Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg) not only is her alter ego but is sassy enough to give Stella a kick in the butt to jump-start her dormant dating life. When Stella's young son (Michael J. Pagan) goes to visit his father for a week, Delilah convinces Stella to accompany her to Jamaica for some R&R. Namely, Delilah wants the repressed, overly disciplined Stella to sow some wild oats.
At first uptight and chilly, Stella soon warms to a young resort employee with the unlikely moniker Winston Shakespeare (Taye Diggs). He is educated, caring, good-looking and (yikes!) all of 20 years old. Winston is immediately attracted to Stella, who is flattered but cautious. Much to her amazement, Stella soon finds herself seeking out the young man and -- what did they put in those rum drinks? -- involved in a vacation romance. She finds herself laughing, cavorting and, wondrously, having fun -- great feelings she's long forgotten.
Fans of McMillan's novels will be pleased that her wickedly funny descriptions and raunchy, perceptive dialogue have been distilled marvelously in her and Ron Bass' sparkling, zesty screenplay. Unlike most summer movies, "Stella" is about people and their inner conflicts and personal obstacles: In Stella's case, it's about finding balance in her life, namely romance and professional satisfaction. Like anyone who's conscientious, she spends too much time trying to please others and fit societal norms.
Above all, Stella's battle is with herself, and it's a conflict we care about deeply in large part because of Bassett's spunky, delectable performance. While it's usually irrelevant to talk Oscars during the popcorn summer season, her spirited, ranging, juicy turn is very likely to earn a best actress nomination. Bassett is sensational: stewing, simmering, smoldering -- she takes us through all of Stella's complex, conflicted feelings.
The supporting players are well-chosen, particularly Goldberg, whose saucy turn as Stella's rambunctious sidekick is at once hilarious and heart-rending. As Stella's buttinski sisters, both Regina King as the irresponsible sibling and Suzzanne Douglas as the judgmental one are terrific. Pagan is winning as Stella's protective young son. In his feature film debut, Diggs is appropriately alluring and steady as Stella's young lover.
Special praise to director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, whose mature hand blends sexiness with smarts. Unlike many of today's romantic films whose sexy scenes are often cheesy and leeringly immature, "Stella" is wonderfully sensuous but never cheap. Admittedly, Sullivan's broad strokes sometimes get a little precious, but overall, the smart, good-hearted film sparks perfectly. And for us old-fashioned types, it climaxes in a great old-style, airport/romantic windup.
Technical contributions are scrumptiously alluring, including Jeffrey Jur's gloriously lush lensing and Chester Kaczenski's vividly telling production design. But the best technical groove goes to costume designer Ruth E. Carter for Bassett's splendid, peacock array of enticing finery. Move over superstar runway models, Bassett struts out the year's best fashion show.
HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK
20th Century Fox
A Deborah Schindler production
Producer: Deborah Schindler
Director: Kevin Rodney Sullivan
Screenwriters: Terry McMillan, Ron Bass
Based on a novel by: Terry McMillan
Executive producers: Ron Bass, Jennifer Ogden, Terry McMillan
Director of photography: Jeffrey Jur
Production designer: Chester Kaczenski
Editor: George Bowers
Music: Michel Colombier
Costume designer: Ruth E. Carter
Casting: Francine Maisler
Sound mixer: Susumu Tokunow
Stella: Angela Bassett
Delilah: Whoopi Goldberg
Winston: Taye Diggs
Vanessa: Regina King
Angela: Suzzanne Douglas
Quincy: Michael J. Pagan
Running time -- 125 minutes
MPAA rating: R
2 items from 1998
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