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'Peacemaker': Bombs Away

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 26, 1997

It would be unfair to prematurely dismiss DreamWorks SKG, the new mega-entertainment venture founded by Steven Spielberg (Mr. S), ex-Disney animation czar Jeffrey Katzenberg (Mr. K) and music mogul David Geffen (Mr. G). But three years after its over-trumpeted birth, DreamWorks has only just started to show its face. The gains are modest, thus far. The biggest successes are the TV show "Spin City," and the company's line of computer games.

Now comes "The Peacemaker," the film division's much anticipated debut, produced by Mr. S. and directed by Mimi Leder. Let's just say, it isn't the greatest movie to launch a would-be media empire. In fact, this thriller about a renegade missile terrorist, starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman, never leaves the silo.

The $50 million budget may not be much by Hollywood standards. But surely some of it should be apparent on screen. The movie's dull, murky and -- despite enough locales for a James Bond film -- looks cheap, tentative and small-scale. And director Leder, who made "ER" episodes before this, imposes such sluggishness on her action scenes, she should have retitled this "The Pacemaker."

In Russia's remote Urals, a train carrying nuclear weapons collides with a passenger train, causing a 75-kiloton nuclear blast. Back in the United States, the usual round-table of military brass, politicians and intelligence experts tries to figure out what's going on.

Dr. Julia Kelly (Kidman) a nuclear scientist and -- take a breath -- the acting head of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group, believes terrorism is involved. Lt. Col. Thomas Devoe (Clooney), an intelligence officer with the U.S. Army's special forces, believes profiteers will sell these weapons to rogue governments.

They're both correct. As they speak, bad, second-tier actors with Russian accents have absconded with the warheads and are now booking to the Iranian border. Using satellite reconnaissance, war choppers and unbelievably hackneyed dialogue, Kelly and Devoe supervise a fast-moving mission to save the free world.

Michael Schiffer, the screenwriter who gave us "Crimson Tide," clearly wants to evoke the spirit of the Tom Clancy movies. "Peacemaker" takes us to Austria, Bosnia and Turkey, then back again to the United States. It's overloaded with big toys -- planes, trains and bulletproof automobiles. It fills the screen with those clattering, digital screen titles, such as "Pentagon National Military Command Center." And it's full of such techno-patter as "I'm requesting a high priority tasker."

But for all its surface attention to nuclear-thriller cliches, Between them, Clooney and Kidman would still need a third party to work up a personality. In fairness to both, they aren't given much to work with.

"I never watched anyone die before," says Kelly, after surviving a bullet-riddled car chase with great loss of life.

"I don't want you provoking an international incident because of a personal agenda," she rattles later, when Devoe gets a little too enthusiastic about stopping those terrorists.

Eventually, the story ends its European tour (where, coincidentally, making films is cheaper) and brings the danger closer to home. But without giving the plot away, the grand finale is so overextended and mountingly ridiculous, you stop caring whether the human race is in danger of nuclear annihilation. You just want out.

If the verdict on "Peacemaker" is negative, the jury is still out on DreamWorks movies. "Amistad," Spielberg's $38 million movie about a slave revolt, comes out at Christmas. So does "Mouse Hunt," SKG's gloves-off challenge to the Walt Disney empire. But "Peacemaker" makes you wonder: Is DreamWorks really taking on the conglomerate entertainment titans, or just barging in for a share of the oligarchic mediocrity? Stay tuned.

THE PEACEMAKER (R) -- Contains violence, profanity and scenes of badly rehearsed hysteria.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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