DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of  Collateral Damage, Collateral, The Fourth Angel, Arlington Road, Lakeview Terrace, Phone Booth, Cellular, 88 Minutes, The Interpreter, The Siege, The Peacemaker, Stealth, Red Eye, Flight Plan , Face/Off, Broken Arrow, Black Dawn, The Sentinel (2 films, one TV series), Enemy of the State, Medium Cool, Chicago 10, This Revolution, Sudden Death, Daylight, Patriot Games, Black Sunday, Time Bomb, Snakes on a Plane ; Anaconda, The Art of War, Reno 911! Miami, The Trigger Effect, True Lies, Body of Lies, Edge of Darkness, From Paris with Love


Title:  Collateral Damage

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 125 minutes

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  Warner Brothers ; Bel-Air

Director; Writer: Andrew Davis

Producer: David Foster

Cast:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franscesca Neri, Lindsay Frost and John Turturro

Technical: 1.8/1, Digital

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: terrorism

Review: This is the film that was delayed from release after the September 11 attacks. And it presents a stereotyped view of terrorism that is technically slick but so transparent that it seems silly, in comparison to reality.

   Here the terrorist is a Colombian drug lord – that seems credible enough – and at one point the terrorist, claiming responsibility, claims that Americans will not feel safe until the U.S. is out of Colombia. This does accidentally echo Osama bin Laden, perhaps. But the real problem of international terrorism is so much more sinister and complicated that attempts to reduce it to simple parallels (in a kind of technical plotting that literary agents usually like to see in thrillers) come out as pointless exercises in “storytelling.”

    Big budget current-day film-making here breaks down with another problem: phony locales. I grew up in the DC area and I do not believe that there is a Dulles “State Department Annex.”  (Excuse: “this is a picture.”) Real Washington locations (especially Union Station) are presented with self-consciousness that gets in the way.  Independent film-makers know how to use locations.


Collateral (2004: Dreamworks/Paramount, dir. Michael Mann, R) is a totally different film with a similar title. Although the premise, slightly transposed, could work well into a different kind of terrorism. A new cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx), picks up a rich gentleman Vincent (Tom Cruise – silver haired and more “ripened” than he was even in Minority Report), who immediately kidnaps and hijacks him and the cab into an evening of violence. A corpse falls off the roof of the cab, another is stuffed in the trunk, and eventually there is a big shoot-out in a disco—a truly harrowing scene (which is why some discos now check customers for weapons on entry, just like office buildings). The plot is sandwiched between Jamie’s encounters with an assistant US Attorney Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), and we eventually learn the setup. Along the way, Mark Ruffalo gives an outstanding performance as a gayish undercover detective who almost saves the day before going down to Vincent—who is kind of a reverse superman—himself.


Artisan Entertainment distributes a DVD of a film made in 2001, The Fourth Angel (dir. John Irvin) with Jeremy Irons as British Journalist Simon Boyd, who loses most of his family in an airplane hijacking, apparently by Serbians seeking ransom. After the system lets him down, Boyd looks to take the law into his own hands, with the help of a diplomat (Jason Priestley). There are the questions about the motives of the hijackers (in expositions from the detective played by Forest Whitaker), which turn out to be so off base after 9/11. Apparently this film did not get a theatrical release, and it seems way off base compared to what really happened. Although, I remember on 9/11, while on the team-building work-related cruise that day, while we had yet to get information, some people thought that the real hijackings could be related to the Balkans, before Osama bin Laden came up in conversation. We did not know during that sunny day what world we could go back to. The film makes August 15 the doom date, and that was not too far from the mark.


A related film came from Sony Screen Gems in 1999. It is Arlington Road (dir. Mark Pellington), starring Jeff Bridges, a domestic terrorism (Michael Faraday) expert and college professor who begins to suspect his neighbor Oliver Lang (played by Tom Robbins) of sinister intentions. Eventually things come to fruition when the FBI building on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington is bombed and collapses (as if imploded), with results comparable to the real 9-11. But the film has too many coincidences to be compelling, although it is rather engaging. There is a lot of discussion over whether terrorists act alone or must be well organized. And there is a rather disturbing irony at the end of the movie. Who is the terrorist, anyway, or is this a setup? This particular film seems surprisingly prophetic of the carnage of 9/11. There is reference to the Oklahoma City bombing as if it had happened in St. Louis. Compare to “Civic Duty” (2007, link below).


Lakeview Terrace (2008, Screen Gems / Overbrook, dir. Neil LaBute) has a racist African American cop neighbor taunting a mixed-race couple next door. Blogger.


Another film, Phone Booth (20th Century Fox, 2002), with Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker, directed by Joel Schumacher, was held from release in late 2002 after the Malvo-Muhammad sniper killings in Maryland, D.C. in Virginia. The premise is chilling enough, and could conceivably inspire copycats. A wiry, hyper, type A and young public relations executive played by Colin Farrell (who talks in a definite New York-ese, whatever his Irish background) gets pinned in a public phone booth at 53rd St and 8th Ave (12 blocks north of Port Authority Bus Terminal), one day before Verizon demolishes it, by a sniper. He always calls his girl friend surreptitiously from it, a little cheating at the corners on his marriage from an otherwise pretty upstanding guy. Well, the sniper wants to execute him for murky reasons that have to do with his power to determine which emerging actors to “publicize.” Well, right away, you wonder about how the whole publicity machine is supposed to work in the age of an Internet when Google can publicize anyone. Pretty soon the sniper knocks off a john next to the booth so that the police will think he is armed. Forest Whitaker looks and acts a lot like Montgomery County, Md. Police chief Charles Moose in the real sniper case. The rest of the movie is an example of lean, forward-moving screenwriting (the kind that agents like), a story wound up like Hitchcock’s Rope, in continuous action capped at just 80 minutes. The main drama consists of Farrell using his quick-thinking (if foul-languaged) wit to communicate to the police that this is a sniper situation without getting knocked off first. He earns our admiration for that. (I wish he didn’t smoke.) At the end, he suffers a minor, deliberate injury and on camera gets the fate deserved by any publicist. His shirt is stripped off as if he were engaged in break dancing, and he is revealed, to have no hair on his chest.


Cellular (2004, New Line, dir. David R. Ellis, 94 min, PG-13) pretty much inverts the premise of Phone Booth. Here an appealing young actor Ryan (Chris Evans) gets a random cell phone call and races through the streets of LA (though not in real time) to save the lady Jessica (Kim Basinger). (He doesn’t have a hands-free device for his cell phone, but this is a story!  He can race fast cars one handed, wrong way, over barricades.)  The mood switches from crime thriller when Jessica and her son are kidnapped, and Jessica locked in the attic, to teeny-bopper rock as Ryan is chided by his girl friend to, well, help others more and be less selfish. Well, he gets the random call, and pretty soon we have a movie where you expect to hear Remy Zero sing “Save Me!”  The plot is tight, with a crisis at every scene (just as in the soaps) and the story is all visual, yet the film makes some sociological or moral points with few words and no discourse. That’s what agents like.


I suppose that Chris Evans could compete with Tom Welling and maybe Josh Hartnett for casting in the next Superman movie. He could be the one competitor with a hairy chest (at least as is shown in the movies), which doesn’t work if you have to have the “S” burned on. In fact, Ryan has a couple of Justin-Timberlake-like tattoos on his shoulders, but that is all. He carries off the superman-like character with great energy and body language, without talking too much. You almost expect to see super strength and heat vision any minute (there is a whimsical visual reference to Xray vision at one point). But the real point is why he even jumps in. At first, I thought the movie strained credulity at the police station and then the Wyman private school as it tried to compel Ryan to take the law into his own hands to save Jessica and commit major felonies (some at the LA airport security lines) in order to do good. (They reassure us of his character—when he steals a charger from the cell phone store, he leaves more money packrat that he has to—an “honest” robber.) Eventually you learn that there are crooked cops involved (we don’t know for sure where Mooney – William H. Macy – will come out until the end, given his incompetence in his first appearance when Ryan tries to get his help at the police station before going on his own spree).


In fact, Ryan personifies the ultimate of asymmetry. He does things (like Superman) that only the determined individualist could do. The police are just too bureaucratic and corruption-prone to handle crooks as slick as this, but an individual superman can. Like Clark cum Kal-El in Smallville, he will determine his own future. Only he can. Oh, he’s a geek, too, with the cell phones. There is a great comical lawyer character (Rick Hoffman) whose Porsche Ryan has to carjack—his CA plate reads something like “Su You”, not “Save Me.”


88 Minutes (2008, Tri-Star / Millennium, dir. John Avnet, 108 min) is a corker that purports to be in real time but isn’t – fortunately. A forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) plays Dr. Death for prosecutors. Shortly before one of his “victims” (Neal McDonough) is to be executed, he gets a cell phone call on campus telling him he has 88 minutes to live. The movie becomes a chase to track down a copycat killer who turns out to be related to the case. Lots of improbable situations. O.C.’s  Benjamin MacKenzie (Mike Stempt) plays a student and one of the more likeable characters. No relation to my screenplay “69 Minutes to Titan” referring to the time it takes light to get to Saturn. There is a real reason for my minute count, none here. Gramm does tend to make enemies who will pray on unchosen family members, a disturbing idea. 


The Interpreter (2005, Universal/Working Title, dir. Sydney Pollack, PG-13 128 min) is an ambitious but traditional large scale political thriller that ties into the post 9/11 world. In fact, the very last shot of the movie shows lower Manhattan minus the World Trade Center.  The opening scenes are in southern Africa and set up the story, where a UN interpreter Sylvia Broome (Nicole Kidman), who grew up in a small African country, overhears an assassination plot to kill the prime minister (or perhaps dictator) of that country at the UN. A secret service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to investigate her. All along, there are questions about her motives. She gets a hold of a used copy of an old book by the leader, “A Liberator’s Diary.” In the mean time, the incidents pile up, including a suicide terrorist attack on a NYC MTA bus, when she is in it (she escapes unharmed). Suicide bombings, common in the Middle East (esp. Israel) have not yet happened in the United States.The media aftermath does not seem to be as melodramatic as it might be. Sydney Pollack appears in the film (uncredited) as the steady Jay Pettigrew, the head of the Secret Service detail in NYC,


The Siege (1998, 20th Century Fox, dir. Edward Zwick, 116 min, R) is one of the most predictive of the pre 9/11 thriller films about the potentiality of a radical Islam terrorist attack.  In this film there are multiple small attacks, including kidnapping and blowing up a bus, then bombing a full Broadway theater (something like this happened in Moscow in 2003) and FBI Headquarters, that eventually lead to martial law being declared and federal troops being stationed on the streets of NYC.  Arabs are called “towelheads” in the film, and critics (pre 9-11) often noted the stereotyping (recall that the Oklahoma City bombing had, however briefly, first been thought to be associated with the Middle East until McVeigh was stopped.) The attacks are motivated by the secret US capture of a terrorist mullah (echo the first WTC bombing in 1993). The idea of WMD attacks is not presented here, as this film is a bit early for that. But I was living in NYC during the 1975 financial crisis (“Ford to City: Drop Dead!”), and I wondered if martial law could have resulted from that. Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis star.


The Peacemaker (1997, Dreamworks, dir. Mimi Leder, based on an article by Lesline and Andrew Cockburn) was one of Dreamworks’s first pictures and has LTC Thomas Devoe (George Clooney) and Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) tracking down loose Russian nukes, before Chechnyan or Bosnian terrorists use them. One of them goes off early in the film when two trains collide (after a switch is deliberately thrown). The actual impact of the locomotives is not shown. Today, of course, loose nukes is one of the biggest concerns discussed by Graham Allison and Sam Nunn (“The Last Best Chance”).


Stealth (2005, Columbia, dir. Rob. Cohen) stays in constant motion with fast moving images and music beat and covers a lot of political ground in its setup concerning stealth Navy  flying wings (the look like the flying wings of the 1940s, almost like UFOs) controlled by artificial intelligence brains that resemble HAL in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Of course, that’s what drives whatever plot there is, the will of the AI machines, who do not add to unit cohesion, to say the least. But along the way they implode a high-rise building in Rangoon after reports that terrorists (aka Al Qaeda) have gathered there; then they answer Sam Nunn’s appropriate concerns about loose nukes when they go after a warlord in a fictitious former Soviet republic carrying “Fat Boys” on livestock. The female pilot Kara (Jessica Biel) gets downed in North Korea, which sets up a finale where one of the AI’s self destructs for the common good. Josh Lucas, Jamie Foxx and Sam Shepard also star.


Red Eye (2005, Dreamworks, dir. Wes Craven, 85 min, PG-13) is a snappy thriller from a horror that sounds like a more appropriate release from Dimension films than Dreamworks. It’s a bit smallish and quick. There is a problem with films that stay inside an airplane fuselage, which takes about half of this film. The DFW terminal at the beginning is not accurately depicted (I’ve been there hundreds of times, including recently).  But let’s get to the subject matter. Irish actor Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later) is chilling as the gaunt, unprofiled terrorist Rippner. (I can imagine a lot of young male actors today incapable of playing a terrorist, and some are almost personal friends.) The trouble is, you like him too much; getting taken down by him would be erotic. Not for Lisa (Rachel McAdams) who keeps her cool as Rippner goes to work on her in the next seat on her flight to Miami. Now it seems that this in an inside job (getting her to airphone-position some officials in a Gold Coast South Beach hotel for a bazooka attack from a cutter called “The Rapture,” and one wonders why the Coast Guard doesn’t check it out—what it they had a nuke or EMP device instead to launch? At the time of the filming, cell phones were not yet allowed on flights. The actual attack is well filmed and quite spectacular, and appears to be on location. The movie goes for the loyalty to blood bait, as her father is the mark in a Versachi-like mansion. The closing climax is a bit predictable.    


Flight Plan (2005, Touchstone, dir. Robert Schwentke) was released about the same time as Red Eye by Disney (Buena Vista), looks a bit bigger, is out of the same basic plot structure, and has been compared to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.  Well, this film really does have an intricate plot with turning points and payoff. The basic set up is that a female aeronautical engineer Kyle (Jodie Foster) has lost her husband in a mysterious high rise fall in Leipzig or Berlin, is flying the body back to New York in a coffin with her six-year-old daughter when the girl disappears. Vanishes. Evaporates. The crew try to convince Kyle that the girl never boarded, that she is already dead. Mental illness. But one thing about airline security is the remote possibility that the crew, even air marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) could be in on a plot, and use Middle Eastern men as a decoy. An inside job. No background investigation can be perfect.


Face/Off (1997, Paramount, dir. John Woo, 138 min, R) sounds at first like an identity-switching story, reminiscent of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. It’s also a drama about counter-intelligence against bioterrorism. To infiltrate an cell, Sean Archer (John Travolta) captures a bad guy Castor (Nicholas Cage) and undergoes creepy surgery to change faces and appearances. Of course he becomes the other person, of sorts. The two actors do have similar bodies, it seems.


Broken Arrow (1996, 20th Century Fox, dir. John Woo, 108 min, PG-13) is famous for Maj. Deakins (again a hairy John Tavolta) saying, “ain’t it cool!”  Nice guy Capt. Hale (Christian Slater) must stop him when he turns renegade and tries to steal two nuclear warheads to blackmail the government. Trouble is, this does play into Sam Nunn’s arguments about loose nukes (Last Best Chance) but this time the nukes are at home (the Tooele Depot, perhaps). A related documentary is “Nuclear Response 911: Broken Arrows & Incidents”. 


The Foreigner 2: Black Dawn (2005, TriStar, dir. Alexander Gruszynski, wr. Martin Wheeler, 105 min, PG-13) gives us a story about the suitcase nukes. Stepehn Segal is the “foreigner” who may be a CIA agent, but he has to work with another agent in a phony handoff of materials to build a suitcase nuke. The phony crime cell seem to be Russian/American Mafiosi (led by Nicholi – a handsome Nicholas Davidoff) who want to use nukes to wreck the banking system. This is all to keep them away from another terror cell. This is a story about who the enemy really is—it is not necessarily an Islamic sleeper cell, when it could consist of those among us with some kind of ulterior motives. It’s surprising that this was just for cable and didn’t find much of a following, because the premise is frightening and plausible. This could have been a successful theatrical release (or is the premise just too realistic for so many people to see it?). At the end, Segal and heroine Agent Amanda Stuart (Tamara Davies) take the nuke out over the ocean near LA or Long Beach and let it make its mushroom cloud as they fly away – it still creates an EMP effect and darkens LA (it wouldn’t if exploded underwater). Most of the literature is concerned with assembling a conventionally sized nuke (like Hiroshima), more like a refrigerator than a suitcase. The issue with the possible missing suitcase nukes from Russia is that the cores deteriorate and probably would not activate – technical complications that ought to keep writers like Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn busy thinking. In 2003 this film had a predecessor, The Foreigner, from TriStar dir. Oblowitz, with Segal as the rogue “foreigner” tracking a dangerous package, maybe a WMD.  It’s interesting that a fictitious film called “Black Dawn” is mentioned in the 1954 classic “The Barefoot Contessa.”


The Sentinel (2006, 20th Century Fox/Regency, dir. Clark Johnson, novel by Petievich, 105 min, PG-13, Canada). The Cinemascope move opens strong, with a black-and-white video of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan on March 30m 1981, outside the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, by John Warnock Hinckley, Jr.  A character Peter Garrison took a bullet for Reagan then, the story says.  Early in this political thriller, President Ballentine (David Rasche) demands that the investigation of a possible mole in the Secret Service be kept classified, because its revelation would cause a total loss of confidence in the presidency. No kidding. Here, I must reassure the visitor that this is fiction. Because even though it sounds like a stereotyped idea, the film is well-crafted and looks more realistic than most. The Washington DC scenes may be constructed with CGI’s and matte paintings, but they look real – I live in the area. So do the climatic scenes at Eaton Center in Toronto (the center of DGC filmmaking these days). Secret Service office Pete Garrison (note the similarity to the last name of the JFK attorney), played by an aggressive, Wall-Street-gekko-like Michael Douglas, has an affair with a coworker’s wife and then winds up getting framed for being the mole. There is a scene where an (apparently) shoulder-fired small missile takes down Marine 1 near Camp David (which also looks real in the movie, as do the scenes near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and, I think, St. Michaels MD)—the President and First Lady are not in it. There is a shootout in a shopping mall (it looked a lot like King of Prussia, PA) that must have taken a lot of legwork to film on location. The denouement has to do with Kyoto, global warming and globalization (there is an effective riot scene in Toronto), and maybe some central Asian oil barons, tied to the Taliban or even Al Qaeda, who don’t want to lose oil revenues; the “solution” was the weakest link, as it seemed a bit half-baked.


An earlier film of the same name, (1977, Universal, Michael Winner, novel by Jeffrey Konvitz) has a fashion model moving into a New York City penthouse and finding it “haunted,” and occupied by a priest with ulterior motives. This film was a bit of a hit in the 70s and played big around the major new movie houses in NYC. The novel was a hit then; today look under his name on BN. The story is a bit like “Burnt Offerings” and “Dark Water.”


And another TV series by this name (1996, Paramount, dir. Danny Bilson) has a former special forces officer James Ellison (Richard Burgi) developing Clark-Kent-like super senses. 


It is usually acceptable for different books and different movies to have the same name. Sometimes a series of books, movies, or TV shows becomes a “franchise” and is considered a trademark or workmark.


Enemy of the State (1998, Touchstone/Jerry Bruckheimer, dir. Tony Scott, PG-13, 150 min, wr. David Marconi) is another thriller about an assassination plot. This time, a suicide is staged of a US Congressman, the car going into the water (shades of Vince Flynn here). A labor union lawyer Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) stumbles onto the plot when a friend leaves him evidence of the murder, as part of one of his kid’s presents. Scott gets deeper into this (in staged common in Grisham thrillers). He is grilled about his own deviations and even “homosexual thoughts.” There are speeches (especially by Lyle, below) about terrorists hating our way of life hiding in the country and needed to be identified and rooted out—one speech sounds chillingly like the Patriot Act talk after 9/11. The NSA (National Security Agency) houses the bad guys, and the film seems pertinent in 2006 given the “scandal” about the NSA datamining private citizen’s phone calls. There is another conversation about the monitoring at the very end, on Larry King Live. Jon Voight is villain Thomas Reynolds, and Gene Hackman is Billie Lyle, in his he-man gobetween. There is a subplot about Lyle’s having been in Iran when the Shah fell and hostages were taken (perhaps a hint that he was involved in the EDS rescue). Apparently the congressman was somehow involved in the issue of making or capturing suitcase nukes. Scott Caan and Jake Busey are the young undercover cops and are quite convincing when they question Dean. The movie takes place in the DC area and some locations are effective (the 12th Street and Dupont Circle tunnels seem to be used for an important wreck), but Occoquan is in Virginia, not Maryland; but Kent Island is real and maybe there is important stuff there. (But it would be vulnerable to hurricanes.) The title of the film seems “appropriate” personally, given my growing involvement with the Libertarian Party when the film was made, although the real point of libertarianism is not to see the world in terms of “enemies.” Unfortunately, too many people do.


Medium Cool (1969, Paramount, dir. Haskell Wexler, 110 min, NC-17) fits on this page, not so much for its notoriety at the time, but because the story takes up the issue of reporter immunity (the Judith Miller problem). John Casellis (Robert Forster) has built his reputation for covering domestic unrest and riots and learns that his network employers has turned over his work to the FBI to investigate protestors. Of course, in 1968, the Vietnam era, post Tet, this was a politically unacceptable thing to get caught doing, but today the issue has meaning in terms of hunting for real terrorists. Casellis gets fired and perhaps blackballed, but goes to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and covers the riots at the conventions. The movies was originally issued with an “X” (today, NC-17) but has often been shown edited for R. 


Chicago 10 (2007, Roadside Attractions / River Road / Participant, dir. Brett Morgan) recreates the Chicago 8 trial in rotoscopic animation, interleaved with compelling actual footage of the Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention riots. Blogger.   


This Revolution (2005, Screen Media Films / Red Envelope, dir., wr. Stephen Marshall 94 min, PG-13) pays homage to “Medium Cool” and “this” in the title indeed is like a java keyword. Likeable 20-something iournalist Jake Cassavetes (Nathan Crooker) has returned from covering the war in Iraq for a big corporate network, and will cover the Republican Convention in New York in 2004, with attention to the protests. He mixes with activists like Tina (Rosario Dawson) with a bit of romance. When he tries to cover some masked protestors assembling on a pigeon-infested tenement roof, he is beaten up, although somehow his camcorder doesn’t get damaged or taken. He learns that the activists know that his network is going to turn over the tapes to Homeland Security, which is using the network as an arm for anti-terrorist infiltration. Jake has a confrontation with his boss, who admits that he is no longer a journalist but a corporate mogul who cares only about the bottom line, and if the government will pay top dollar, he’ll turn over the truth. Jake, of course, IS a journalist. So he and his friends arrange to overlay President Bush’s acceptance speech at the convention with a “Pirate Attack” video of all the suppressed but truthful footage (including atrocities by Americans in Iraq, which include an arm amputation on camera), which is broadcast in Times Square. 


Sudden Death (1995, Universal/Signature, dir. Peter Hyams, 110 min, R) has Jean-Claude Van Damme as troubled former fireman Darren McCord taken on terrorists holding the Vice President (Raymond Barry) at the “world series” of the National Hockey League Stanley Cup finals. Darren has, two years before, failed to save a little girl in a fire. But this is an attack based on ransom, not on ideology. A stereotyped thriller.


Daylight (1996, Universal, dir. Rob Cohen) may anticipate a 2006 plot against the Holland Tunnel by Al Qaeda (later news reports on July 7 contested the early report that this tunnel was targeted; later reports mention the Path transit tunnels from New Jersey). In this film, robbers hit a truck filled with explosives in a Hudson River tunnel, causing an explosion that collapses both ends of the tunnel. Kit Latura (Sylvester Stallone) has the job of saving everybody. The initial disaster sequence is quite well done, but the tunnel is fictitious and looks fake in the movie. There may have been legal reasons for this. This was a big genre action film at the time.  


Patriot Games (1992, Paramount, dir. Phillip Noyce, novel by Tom Clancy, adaptation written by W. Peter Iliff, 117 min, R) is a famous thriller where Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) gets drawn into a plot while on vacation. This time the bad guys are the IRA, and his own family back in Maryland is threatened by a spinoff faction. The idea that rogue elements could target any visible or important person’s family is disturbing, even though most agents are supposed to keep a low profile for that reason. The screenwriter who did the adaptation is now quite well known and teaches at many seminars. This is an example of a film about an important topic that puts the entertainment value and constant movement of story first.  Some characters were consolidated in order to make a complicated plot visually manageable and to keep it moving for the ticket and popcorn buying audience. Of course, the issues don’t seem as compelling as our problems today globally, but they are for the players.


Black Sunday (1977, Paramount, dir. John Frankenheimer, based on a novel by Thomas Harris, 143 min, R) This is the famous movie about a terrorist plot (launched by Black September) to attack fans at a Super Bowl in Miami, with a balloon that will explode and shoot shrapnel. The buildup is fascinating, with a female terrorist Dahlia (Marhe Keller) and a disgruntled American Vietnam war veteran Capt. Michael Lander (Bruce Dern) as the "enemy" and Kobakov (Robert Shaw) as middleman and double agent, and Fritz Weaver as the FBI Agent Corley.


Time Bomb (2006, CBS/Paramount, dir. Stephen Gyllenhaal, wr. Frank Military, 100 min). In this TV movie, a series of bombs is set up in a football stadium in Washington for an NFL playoff game. This is similar to a "proposal" recently announced on some radical websites in early March 2006 (and reported by the media) as a fantasy to use suicide bombers at sporting events. (There was a similar hoax reported as news on the NFL website in Oct 2006, which resulted in a federal prosecution.) David Arquette is the honcho solving the case and disabling the devices. In an opening sequence a bar is bombed although everybody gets out. The chief's family has been kidnapped, playing on "family first" as in "Firewall" above. ("My wife and kid are here.") There is a great line, "this is not a discussion." Specific landmarks in the DC area are deliberately misidentified (Homeland Security is not in the Pentagon, and the actual name of the stadium (a well known company) is not used, nor is the name of the football team (which everybody knows). Washington is playing New Orleans, which is back on its feet after Katrina. It seems like the film studio could not get license rights (to use real trademarked names and places), or they were afraid of making these entities targets, a very disturbing observation. The film, as a result, seems hectic and lacks any sense if reality. The film bears some similarity to "Black Sunday" above, although it is a bit corny.


Snakes on a Plane (2006, New Line, dir. David R. Ellis, wr. John Heffernan and Sebastian Gutierrez, R, 105 min) Well, you can start out with a lot of ho hum on this one. The lanky candidate Lee who went so far on The Apprentice at age 22 said you don’t get ahead by being a snake. But what about the real reptiles? Let’s jump to the end credits here, where New Line plays a sumptuous fern bar video, making fun of the TSA and security screeners. There is one lesson in practice—they need to look at the checked baggage, too, for combinations of things. We’ve heard about bringing on liquids in carry on. Well, the passengers to that in this movie – even neo-synephrine nasal spray, which is probably banned. And there is some social commentary, as one little boy is told that he should prove himself a man by protecting his family – specifically an even younger brother – an automatic filial responsibility duty that preexists growing up and begetting your own kids.  


There is something claustrophobic about movies confined to the space of a fuselage – in this case, the plane is a 747, with a beautiful lounge. FNI agent Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) has browbeat artist-surfer Sean Jones (Nathan Philips), who has witnessed a mob hit in the Big Island “jungle.” Sean is always a good name for a good-guy character – here, he doesn’t have enough hair on his arms and legs (he is a surfer) and he goes along for the ride as a pretty boy. He and Nelville have first class to themselves, as they return the 2000 miles to LA for Sean to tesfity. (I made the trip in 1980 when there was a Braniff; here the fictitious airline is South Pacific, like the musical.)  We find that out from the screenwriters visually, as all the other passengers get bumped down to coach on boarding with no published explanation.


Actually, too, the movie is open at both ends. It opens with a shot of Diamond Head on Oahu, as if to tell us silently that Honolulu could some day get it from a tsunami. Toward the end, there is an FBI raid and a landlubber snake lab. But we have twenty minutes or so of buildup on the plane, while the snakes in the cargo cabin wake up to the pheromones – that is the combination chemotherapy in checked baggage that still presents the security threat. The passengers will get it in the most personal spots – starting with a couple that has snuck off to the lavatory and turned off the smoke detector – illegal. Another guy gets it when urinating. People lose the most sensitive body parts, get eyes gouged out, and have elephantiasis of the legs after the bites. It becomes mayhem. The way to get rid of the snakes – I hope I don’t give away too much – is to vacuum them out. Now Sean should have been the pilot of last resort; instead the Play Station / Microsoft Xbox honors go to Trou (Kenan Thompson). There is a little bit of homophobic banter with the male flight attendant, who turns out to be straight – when he almost performs venom removal on a passenger. You can imagine.

The New York Post online, on Aug. 21, 2006, used the metaphor headline "Snake on a Plane" to characterize self-confessed JonBenet Ramsey suspect John Mark Karr.


This film has had other titles, including “Ananconda 3” and “Pacific Air 121” (which sounds too bland, but New Line, amazingly, almost used it).


Anaconda (1997, Columbia, dir. Luis Llosa) was a classic horror film in its day, where a National Geographic hunter goes on a journey to find the world’s deadliest snake, and many people meet their unseemly demises. 


The Art of War (2000, Warner Bros./Morgan Creek/Franchise, dir. Christian Duguay, 117 min, R) stages a terrorist situation that seemed plausible around Y2K time but is now outdated. Neil Shaw (Wesley Snipes) prefers elaborate non-violence to negotiate political minefields, but must resort to self-preservation when he is framed after a Chinese ambassador is shot at a dinner celebrating a trade agreement, and a truck is found filled with corpses of Vietnamese refugees. Anne Archer plays a part-Chinese national bent on exposing how China is a "virus" infecting American trade while maintaining an essentiallt totalitarian system. (Remember, in early 2001, there would be a flareup of nuclear tensions over Taiwan, now forgotten in the 9/11 world.) The film starts with a spectacular New Years celebration in what looks like Hong Kong. Most of the movie is in New York, with the WTC visible. Donald Sutherland plays Douglas Thomas as the United Nations PC guy. The film shows computers with Windows 2000 pretty much as it looked at the time, with the typical cute GUI applications (like those built with Powerbuilder and Swing) that today look even more graphical. There is a plot twist involving a lost cat, and a cat gets involved with a home invasion in one scene. There is an impressive shot of a seedy garment district sweat shop. A great line is "Appearances are everything ... Politics and deception are built on it." A very sharp looking film, even if it has outmoded story concepts.   


Reno 911! Miami (2007, 20th Century Fox/Paramount/Comedy Central, dir. Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, 85 min, R) is a spoof of the Comedy Central TV series, but for me the Saturday Night Live type humor doesn’t quite come off. In Reno, the sheriff’s department defuses a potential suitcase nuke attack, and then wins a bus trip to Miami Beach. When the local sheriff’s department is imprisoned by bioterrorists, the tag team from Reno is called into action, with a series of dirty skits and jokes. Note: The Miami Beach Sheriff’s Department really would be the Dade County department. We never do see Reno in the movie, the biggest little city in the world being every bit as photogenic. Thomas Lennon is Lt. James Dangle, always in the shortest of shorts, but his gams survive the mayhem. The funniest scene may occur after the credits (when the audience, which at Regal included a lot of middle school kids for a gross-out R movie), where the TSA and the security screeners get spoofed, one being run through the screen. They need Clark Kent’s Xray vision, or one of those new devices that presents a chalk golem image. 


The Trigger Effect (1996, Universal / Gramercy / Amblin, dir. David Koepp, 97 min, R) This Spielberg associated film is “smallest” and hits the viewer in the gut with these moral issues about civilization, interdependence, individualism, and family. It starts with wolves scavenging a carcass outside a major Sacramento, CA suburb. Pretty soon we see a typical family Matthew (Twin Peaks ‘s Kyle MacLaughlin, who seems to come right out of that series) and Elisabeth Shue. In a well-shot scene with the city in the distance, the power goes out. Over time, no information is available, and people start becoming very protective of their own business, families and selves. Matthew cannot buy medicine for his sick baby. Soon, other conflict with neighbors develop, and Matthew and his family flee. More conflicts occur in the desert, and at one point Matthew begs for help from a local resident, who wonders why he should trust him. The whole script seems to reinvent the Gospel notions of being one’s neighbor’s keeper, which is difficult in a competitive society. Now the Northeast had a real blackout in August 2003, and it did not break down as society does in this movie. At one point, there is a line about government lists, and yet this movie was made well before 9/11.


True Lies (1994, 20th Century Fox, dir. James Cameron, based on “La Totale!” by Claude Zidi et al, 144 min, PG-13). This movie anticipates the post 9/11 world in that “Crimson Jihad” is led by a character named Salim (Art Malik) but whose rhetoric sounds like Osama bin Laden on his tapes (the resentment of American “occupation” of Muslim lands). He has captured the Snowcake nukes (eg suitcase nukes), and, as on the “24” program, would blow one up a week until his demands are met. That part isn’t how it works; in 1994 it wasn’t understood that Al Qaeda strikes without warning. The setup of the movie sounds clever but comes across as a spoof of James Bond and, at best, episodic. Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger, not yet governor but maybe a Republican) works as a computer salesman, following the 100 Mile Rule of sales culture, and has his wife in the dark about his life as a secret agent for a secret private company working as a proxy for the government for corporate America. Mrs. Taske (Jamie Lee Curtis) is so bored that she gets involved with an amateur sleuth Albert (Tom Gibson). When Harry catches her in a g-man raid of a trailer park, he disguises himself and blackmails her into working for the “Shop.” When the terrorist catches them, they have to reveal their “lies” and work together to prevent the catastrophe. Many of the individual scenes are clever, but there is no real tension in today’s terms. It comes across as silly now.


I have a novel manuscript a bit like this. But in my case the “secret agent” works as a history teacher but has many absences. His wife knows about the CIA work as he jets around the world like a “Mr. Wilson” looking for bizarre clues as to the next end-of-the-world threat. He meets a gay college student in ROTC, fighting off “don’t ask don’t tell” and needs to use the student to break the plot. In the course of things, his wife finds out that he is bisexual himself. I probably shouldn’t give away a plot for free like this (it helps me to write a short elevator pitch like this on my “pseudo-blog” when I see an older film like this as comparison), but “the devil is in the details” and I think there will be plenty of suspense when I have this thing all edited. It’s more like an “art movie” than a “genre thriller.” There are intertwined subplots with other characters, including a Muslim who was in the country for years and has been in the military establishment for years, and another older gay character who imagines plots that turn out to guide the gay ROTC student and the “Mr. Wilson” on a tag-team trip to the “awful truth.” At the end, There Will Be Blood.


Body of Lies (2008, Warner Brothers, dir. Ridley Scott, novel by David Ignatius, 122 min, R). Leonardo DiCaprio plays a CIA agent who sets up a fake terror cell to catch the real one after bombings in London, Amsterdam and Turkey (the latter against an American military base). Blogger.


Edge of Darkness (2010, Warner Brothers, dir. Martin Campbell, based on TV miniseries, R)  Mel Gibson plays a Boston cop grieving when his activist daughter becomes a target of a terrorist US corporation. Blogger.  Stuff like vomiting from radiation sickness goes on.


From Paris with Love (2010, Lions Gate/Digital Factory/Europa, dir. Pierre Morel, R, France, 93 min)  Geeky Johnathan Rhys-Myers learns to play rough as the CIA partner of John Travolta, to stop a female suicide bomber at a diplomatic charity event in Paris.  Blogger.

Related reviews: The Sum of All Fears;  9/11 movies (incl. “Last Best Chance”), Firefox   28 Days Later    The Poseidon Adventure (2005 film); The Taking of Pelham One Two Three   Lost Highway , Mission Impossible I, II, III, Executive Decision   The Barefoot Contessa    Burnt Offerings,  Dark Water   The Assassination of Richard Nixon   The Day Reagan Was Shot  The Man Who Knew Too Much   Nuclear Response 911  Civic Duty   Chill Factor


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