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‘Clear and Present Danger’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 05, 1994


Phillip Noyce
Harrison Ford;
James Earl Jones;
Willem Dafoe;
Hope Lange;
Henry Czerny;
Anne Archer;
Miguel Sandoval;
Donald Moffat;
Harris Yulin;
Joaquim de Almeida
plentiful death by gunfire and explosion

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"Clear and Present Danger" feels like a recurring dream, a deja vu of a movie. The third film to be adapted from novelist Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series (after "The Hunt for Red October" and "Patriot Games"), it offers the usual round of situation-room anxiety at the CIA, shady maneuverings in Washington power corridors and secret battles with foreign adversaries. And once again, dependably resourceful Ryan (played a second time by Harrison Ford) fights for truth, justice and the American Way.

In this story, CIA analyst/agent Ford is stuck with a desk job. His old lion of a mentor (James Earl Jones as Admiral James Greer) is dying and needs a worthy successor. While Jones lies in a VA hospital, Ford -- now the CIA's acting deputy director -- finds himself assuring stern congresswoman Hope Lange that the Company's request for funds to assist the Colombian government against the drug cartels will not involve troops.

Only later does Ford realize someone on his side is using the taxpayers' lucre for covert military operations. Infuriated that he was being used (heroes can be so dumb), Ford decides to fly to Colombia himself to straighten things out. At that point, the movie goes into Chuck Norris mode: Americans are being held prisoner in foreign cells. Treacherous drug manufacturers abound. The helicopter has started its motor. You know how it goes.

For what it is, "Clear and Present Danger" is fun to sit through. Director Phillip Noyce (who helmed "Patriot Games") keeps the action crisp and varied in this post-James Bond drug-cartel scenario. But if the movie doesn't lose the entertaining pace set by its predecessors, it does little to break free of the pack. Screenwriters Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian and John Milius can't completely freshen the over-familiarity, as the U.S. government tiptoes around Congress to battle Colombian drug merchants, a renegade CIA operations deputy director (Henry Czerny) does business with mysterious field operatives and a national security adviser (Harris Yulin) seems to be the guy really running things in the White House.

There's nothing "wrong" with this movie but it feels like warmed-over business as usual. Not counting the returnees -- Ford as Ryan, Anne Archer as his wife (again) and Jones as Greer (for the third time) -- everybody seems to be replaying roles from other movies. Yulin, Miguel Sandoval (a drug emperor called Ernesto Escobedo), Donald Moffat (possibly the screen's most buffoonish president in a non-comedy) and others come across as minimally reworked spy-movie cliches.

As for the state-of-the-art hardware, it feels like the slick version of old hat. There's an air-launched missile (guided partially by CIA operative Willem Dafoe on a PC) that glides down to its Colombian target "Dr. Strangelove"-style. There's voice-matching software that helps Ford finger a bad guy who made the mistake of leaving a message on his victim's answering machine. Even the dialogue seems reproduced from somewhere. When Dafoe asks Czerny what the American government wants, the CIA deputy answers: "They want what every first-term administration wants: A second term." It's smart-aleck banter. But we've heard it before.

Director Noyce shines in a few scenes that are worth the price of admission. In the best of all, Ford -- suspecting one of his own team members -- manages to break the suspect's personal computer access code. But when Ford logs on, he inadvertently alerts the bad guy. A furious and thrilling keyboard race ensues, as Ford tries to read and print incriminating evidence while his opponent feverishly deletes his computer records. But noteworthy moments like these are lost in the movie's general rush towards its formulaic completion. And unless you back up your memory of the good scenes with floppy disks, "Clear and Present Danger" will purge from your mind as soon as you reach the parking lot.

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER (PG-13) —Contains plentiful death by gunfire and explosion.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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