Enemy of the State (1998)

reviewed by
Edward Johnson-Ott


Enemy of the State (1998) Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight, Lisa Bonet, Regina King, Stuart Wilson, Laura Cayouette, Loren Dean, Barry Pepper, Ian Hart, Jake Busey, Scott Caan, Jason Lee, Gabriel Byrne, James L Gros, Dan Butler, Jack Black, Jamie Kennedy, Jason Robards (uncredited). Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Written by David Marconi. Directed by Tony Scott. 127 minutes. Rated R, 3 stars (out of five stars)

Review by Ed Johnson-Ott, NUVO Newsweekly www.nuvo-online.com Archive reviews at http://us.imdb.com/M/reviews_by?Edward+Johnson-ott To receive reviews by e-mail at no charge, send subscription requests to pbbp24a@prodigy.com

The tagline for "Enemy of the State" is "It's not paranoia if they're really after you." Leaving the theater following the popcorn thriller about an innocent man caught in a web of secret agents, surveillance equipment and deadly covert activities, I wondered how the movie might affect any genuine paranoids in the audience. Just imagine some poor guy, feverishly twitching in his seat, thinking "I knew it, they're really out there! If fact, they probably create movies just like this to convince us that these kind of activities are too fantastic to be true, thereby lulling us into a false sense of security."

For anyone concerned that the elaborate high-level intrigue portrayed in "Enemy of the State" reflects reality, let's look at a recent example of governmental effectiveness. It took conservatives several years and millions of dollars just to prove that President Clinton "got some" on the side, and, months after the revelation, he's still in office and the Republicans got clobbered in the elections. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how our government works.

In "Enemy of the State," Will Smith plays attorney and family man Robert Clayton Dean. Life is good for the Washington DC lawyer, until he bumps into Zavitz (Jason Lee), an old college buddy. After their brief encounter, Zavitz is chased by government operatives, only to be struck down and killed on a nearby highway. Dean, shaken by the death of his friend, returns home, unaware that Zavitz slipped him a disc documenting the assassination of a Congressman by the same group of goons. In short order, agents knock on Dean's door and the young professional ends up on the run; with his credit and job destroyed, his marriage in a shambles and lots of scary guys trying to kill him.

With "Independence Day" and "Men in Black" on his résumé, and "The Wild Wild West" due next summer, Will Smith clearly knows how to pick crowd- pleasing movies and "Enemy of the State" should provide him another hit. The film, from "Armageddon" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and "True Romance" director Tony Scott, is fast-paced and packed with action and thrills.

As always, Smith is a likable and convincing all-American hero who manages to deliver good one-liners between chases and feats of derring-do. Smith works best when paired with older actors, and he has a great one here, with Gene Hackman giving a crisp performance as a former operative of the National Security Agency. The two actors work very well together.

As a matter of fact, "Enemy of the State" is notable for having a far more talented cast than your average action/thriller. Jon Voight gives his most focused performance in quite some time as a corrupt State Department official. The seasoned veteran is surrounded by a very impressive group of bright young actors playing assorted smooth-talking snakes, techno-geeks and government thugs. Stand outs include Jack Black ("Mars Attacks!"), Loren Dean ("Gattica"), Barry Pepper ("Saving Private Ryan"), Jamie Kennedy ("Scream 2"), Ian Hart ("The Butcher Boy"), and Jake Busey ("Home Fries").

As if that wasn't enough, Gabriel Byrne pops up, along with "Chasing Amy's" Jason Lee, James Le Gros from "Drugstore Cowboy," "Frasier's" Dan Butler and Jason Robards, in an uncredited performance as a Congressman with fatal integrity. Add "Angel Heart's" Lisa Bonet and Regina King from "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and you're talking about one hell of a powerhouse cast.

Bruckheimer and Scott were wise to load their film with so many talents, because it takes actors this good to obscure the many implausibility's of the film. Beneath the non-stop barrage of high-tech surveillance and action scenes, "Enemy of the State" contains a coincidence-filled storyline held together by duct tape. In addition, a couple of the chases go on too long and the ending, while satisfying, is way too pat to be believed.

But, of course, we're not supposed to believe any of this. After all, "Enemy of the State" is just a silly, entertaining, over-the-top paranoid thriller and none of it could ever happen in real life. Or maybe that's just what they want us to think...

© 1998 Ed Johnson-Ott    

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