Enemy of the State (1998)

reviewed by
James Sanford

You don't have to go to a kids' movie this season to see bugs; there are plenty on view in "Enemy of the State," the latest flashy, sterile package to come off producer Jerry Bruckheimer's assembly line. Smartly playing off public fears of illegal observation and wiretapping -- the villains here are apparently all white Republican males, just to put a fine point on it all -- David Marconi's screenplay teems with high-tech surveillance equipment, satellite observation and digital cameras hidden in trash bins and smoke alarms. Too bad no one thought to have star Will Smith remake Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me" as the movie's theme song. Smith, as Georgetown lawyer Robert Dean, is the unlikely target of all this electronic voyeurism, thanks to a chance encounter with a former classmate (Jason Lee) who unwittingly taped a murder and secretly passed along the evidence to Dean. Within hours, Dean finds himself accused of everything from having an affair with an old flame (a shopworn-looking Lisa Bonet) to having murdered said mistress. His wife Carla (Regina King) throws him out, his credit cards are invalidated and he finds himself in perpetual flight from the sinister National Security Agency, headed up by cold-blooded Jon Voight and Loren Dean. No one's going to mistake "Enemy" for "North By Northwest," but the picture has enough juice to hold the interest for the first hour. By the time Gene Hackman turns up as a former NSA agent who's been underground for the past 18 years though, the story is running out of places to go. Another stumbling block is Smith himself, a congenial actor but a limited one. His emotional range does not extend to playing grief or to convincingly portraying angry indignation. His best moments here come when he banters with the always delightful King, whose skeptical reactions to her husband's wild stories are priceless. Director Tony Scott steadfastly adheres to the first rule of the Bruckheimer school of filmmaking, which is that no shot should be allowed to last more than four seconds. The result is an overwhelming rush of imagery which will either sweep you away or put you off. At least it's better suited to this tangled tale than it was to the empty-headed, often baffling "Armageddon." Though it's easy to trace the roots of "Enemy" back to such 1970s suspensers as "Three Days of the Condor" or "The Conversation" (in which Hackman's role was not far removed from his part here), Marconi can't come up with a feasible finale to the chase, and the last ten minutes of the movie provide a lame, bloody capper to a fairly exciting yarn. James Sanford

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