Enemy of the State (1998)

reviewed by
David Nusair

Enemy of the State (Reviewed on Nov. 21/98)

Starring Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Seth Green, Jason Lee, Jon Voight

Will Smith can be a charistmatic actor. In "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", his NBC sitcom that ran for seven years, he was always engaging and funny. In his breakthrough movie role from "Independence Day", he was essentially playing the same character as his sitcom, but he was engaging and the audience was rooting for him. Now, with "Enemy of the State", Smith is trying to become a Real Actor, and quite frankly, he doesn't have the talent for it.

I don't want to be one of those critics that needlessly slags actors, but I'm afraid that it is a necessary evil in this case. Smith just isn't convincing in his role as a D.C. attourney on the run from nefarious government agents. He always seems to be going through the motions. And, worst of all, he has virtually no screen presence. Whenever he's on screen, the viewer doesn't feel compelled to watch him, and when you're the star of the film, that's deadly. Imagine how riveting this movie could have been had a talented young actor like Edward Norton taken Smith's role.

Despite Smith's awkward and unconvincing performance, "Enemy of the State" isn't all bad. There are some great, heart-pounding action scenes that had me on the "edge of my seat". Tony Scott, who's previous credits include "Crimson Tide" and "Top Gun", is a master at filming fast-paced action sequences. And unlike Michael Bay, director of this summer's awful "Armageddon", he doesn't feel the need to include thousands of cuts. He understands that fast cuts do not always equal fast action. Bay could surely take a lesson from Scott, since their styles are so similar.

Alongside the good action sequences, there are some decent actors here, particuarly Gene Hackman. Hackman has long been one of my favorites, and he delivers another brilliant performance. He blows Smith away every time he is on screen. Perhaps they should have gotten a lesser actor to make Smith look good, because as it is, Hackman reminds the audience of what a good actor can do with lesser material.

And it is lesser material. The script, while interestingly plotted, contains simply *horrible* dialogue. Smith's character is constantly wisecracking, even in situations that no sane man could make light of. And the ending is a complete cop-out. It's as if David Marconi, the screenwriter, had painted himself into a corner with all these different characters, he didn't know what to do. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that the movie ends exactly the same way Scott's "True Romance" did.

One final complaint: Gabriel Byrne. Here is an excellent actor reduced to a three minute cameo as an assassin. Even in his miniscule part, he manages to exude more charisma than Smith manages in the entire two hour running time. What a waste.

"Enemy of the State" is a not-too-boring diversion, but given all the talent involved, both behind the camera and in front, it's a real disappointment.

** out of ****
David Nusair                                      dnusair@chat.carleton.ca
Come visit my "Reel Film Reviews" site! "http://chat.carleton.ca/~dnusair" 
"The most annoying questions are the hypothetical, like, `what would have happened if you had quit after Siamese Dream?' Well, what would have happened? Probably, we all would have been playing samba somewhere." -Billy Corgan

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