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Not Much Life in 'Proof'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 6, 2000


    'Proof of Life' Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe go hand in hand in the listless "Proof of Life."
(Castle Rock)
"Proof of Life" isn't a movie. It's an overpriced scrapbook.

Cobbled together from factoids and anecdotes gleaned from a Vanity Fair article about international kidnapping and counter-kidnapping, director Taylor Hackford's movie is an eye-catching, but empty, compendium of spectacular Andean mountains, haunting vistas and zero organization. There's a story here, but it feels haphazardly glued together. And the movie gets no help from its staggeringly uninspired leads, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.

If the actors really had the steamy, extramarital romance the tabloids have banner-headlined lately, they must have saved the heat for each other, not the cameras. On screen, it looks as if both performers are bound and determined to prove there's nothing between them.

When dam engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) is captured in an unnamed South American country by a narco-terrorist guerrilla army, his captors demand $3 million in ransom. That leaves Bowman's wife, Alice (Ryan) and his sister (Pamela Reed) scrambling for a solution.

Enter Thorne, Terry Thorne (Crowe), a blue-chip negotiator who comes with a high price tag. He's done deals like this around the world, including a hair-raising incident in Chechnya, which we see in a sort of James Bond prelude at the beginning of the movie. Unfortunately, since Peter's company suddenly concludes it can't pay for his services, Terry is forced to bow out.

But wait! Terry has realized something: The client is Meg Ryan! This calls for special measures. After initially rejecting Alice, Terry returns to do the job, gratis. He's ready to talk with the rebels and, if push comes to shove, paint his face, don fatigues, round up a few mercenary pals and get native. But first . . . it's time for a little negotiation and some romantically suggestive moments with The Client.

Except this romantic premise – the whole point of watching this movie in the first place – never gets off the ground. They're always hovering around each other, as she tells him dully scripted confessions about her marriage and the great traumatic event that occurred in Africa (don't ask); the movie never quite shows us that something (other than moss or cobwebs) is growing between them.

When that inevitable kiss occurs, it's hard not to exclaim: Huuuhhh?

"Are you in love with this woman?" asks Dino (David Caruso), one of Terry's soldier-of-fortune buddies.

Got me.

Meanwhile, poor old Peter Bowman, stuck in mountaintop stir, counts the days, grows a beard and waits for his subplot scenes. If this were "Casablanca," he'd be the Paul Henreid character – the earnest, politically committed chump who doesn't have a clue what's really going on with his wife and that dashing loner.

But there's a twist: Nothing is going on. This could be the dullest extramarital dalliance in recent memory.

Want to know the best part of this movie? The end credits! As we learn the names of cast and crew, including Stand-By Rigger, Animal Wrangler and Weight Loss Consultant (I am not making this up), there are some fantastic aerial shots of the Andes, where "Proof of Life" was filmed. But alas, this travelogue section does little to redeem what preceded. We're having a lovely time, the cinematography department seems to be telling us, sorry we had to make a movie.

"Proof of Life" (R, 135 minutes) – Contains drug use, battle carnage, strong language and no sign of Dennis Quaid.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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