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'Murder at 1600': Executive Ordure

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 18, 1997

In "Murder at 1600," the filmmakers know what their trump card is, and they play it all night long. Itís the most famous address in America. "1600 what?" asks detective Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes) when he gets the call. The call about a homicide, that is: dead, leggy blonde lying in a pool of blood in a restroom at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Yep, that would be the White House -- home to Presidents, First Ladies, Democratic financiers and, lately, a rash of Hollywood movies.

Did I mention the address?

When Regis is called in to investigate the matter of the blond stiff, he runs into an official brick wall. Nick Spikings (Daniel Benzali of "Murder One"), the director of White House security, whose shaved head makes him look like Otto Preminger, is particularly uptight.

"This doesnít leave the room," he rasps, after Regis and the White House security detail have listened to the coronerís icky report.

As far as Regis is concerned, this murder does leave the room. It happened in his jurisdiction, and in his city. In fact, he has spent a lifetime studying Washington and its history. His apartment (in danger of being razed because of a government agencyís desire to consume more real estate) is a chapel to the city, with a scale model of the town in the 1860s.

Naturally, this attitude meets with resistance at every turn. The nebulous protectors of the Chief Executive tap his phones, install bugs in his apartment, watch him from parked cars -- you know, the usual business. Regis barrels on, with the help of Detective Stengel (the smugly self-congratulatory Dennis Miller), whose job seems to consist entirely of cheering up his friend with wiseacre remarks, and Secret Service Agent Chance (Diane Lane), who knows a White House conspiracy when she smells one. Naturally, thereís testy resistance on her part before she hooks herself to Regisís moral engine.

"You waltz in here, expecting me to violate every oath Iíve ever taken?" she says when the detective argues his way into her house, demanding the truth. Sheís a former Olympic gold medalist in pistol sharpshooting, by the way. And anyone who talks about a special skill -- whether itís sharpshooting, sky-diving or hacky-sack juggling -- will get to demonstrate that skill during the climactic finale.

Snipes seems to have a talent -- even a hunger -- for taking on formulaic roles and giving them everything heís got. What heís got is a certain slickness, which he uses like an infrared weapon on everyone. The secret servicemen -- ever as stupid, mechanical and evil as Hollywood loves to make íem -- get intimidated. Women donít bed him, but one of them offers to buy him a drink. Anyway, he doesnít have time for that sort of stuff.

The movieís a crock, of course, especially when it tries to tie this murder in with a hostage crisis in North Korea. But it does about as well as can be expected, given its laughable, red-alert premise. (Iím probably being unduly influenced by "Absolute Power" and "Shadow Conspiracy," two recent movies about the White House which make this movie look like "Citizen Kane.")

The best thing about "Murder at 1600"? Speed of exposition. Directed by Dwight Little, who made Steven Seagalís "Marked for Death," this thing whizzes from one unbelievable story point to the next. Your suspension of disbelief appreciates the momentum, if nothing else.

MURDER AT 1600 (R) ó Contains sexual situations, graphic language, gore and violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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