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Kennedy Center
With Enemies Like These . . .

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 1998

  Movie Critic

Will Smith stars in "Enemy of the State." (Touchstone)

Tony Scott
Will Smith;
Gene Hackman;
Jon Voight;
Regina King;
Barry Pepper;
James LeGros;
Jason Lee;
Jason Robards;
Jamie Kennedy;
Scott Caan;
Gabriel Byrne;
Jake Busey;
Seth Green;
Loren Dean
Running Time:
2 hours, 12 minutes
Strong language and violence
"Enemy of the State," a kabooming, broad-shouldered political thriller from Jerry Bruckheimer, varies not a whit from the action producer's formula: Something explodes every 10 minutes, be it a bomb or somebody's temper. The result is definitely a blast, but for the most part it serves up more of the same old kerplooey.

Behind the camera, director Tony Scott is as fleet and proficient as a professional killer. The picture sports all the latest high-tech bells and whistles and sets a pace that Richard Petty would envy.

There are lulls between explosions, chases and stunts, but they're offset to a degree by the blitz of lighting effects and the dizzying montages Scott also employed in "Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide." The dazzle doesn't make up, however, for the movie's lack of depth.

Set in Washington and Baltimore, the story concerns the demise of privacy in the face of increasingly sophisticated communications technology. And like countless other post-Watergate yarns, it invokes the specter of past political conspiracies and plays on the American propensity toward paranoia.

Unfortunately, those themes have gone stale thanks in large part to TV's "X-Files." Besides, the government is so busy chasing and chewing its own tail these days that it looks too self-absorbed to monitor the ordinary Joe's phone calls and computer files. And as Reynolds, the movie's divinely diabolical villain (Jon Voight), rightly points out, "Privacy's been dead for 30 years. . . . The only privacy left is inside your head."

Will Smith, affable and sympathetic as Robert Dean, a man who knows too much, nevertheless manages to involve the audience in the hero's plight. A rising star in the Washington legal community with a wallet full of credit cards, a house in Georgetown and a loving family, Dean needs to learn a lesson.

When his wife (Regina King) expresses her concerns about legislation that would ease restrictions on surveillance, he pooh-poohs her worries. "I'm not planning to blow up any federal buildings," he says. So what's the big deal? Funny he should ask.

The movie begins with the death of a senator (uncredited Jason Robards), a vocal opponent of the aforementioned bill, which has gotten two really big thumbs-up from the National Security Agency. Voight, as a rogue NSA chief, believes he has committed the perfect murder until he discovers that a nature photographer (Jason Lee) videotaped the crime and slipped the tape into Smith's shopping bag.

Via the NSA's vast intelligence resources, Reynolds strips Dean of his credibility on the job, at home and with his creditors, and all of a sudden he's running for his life down Connecticut Avenue in nothing but a pilfered hotel bathrobe.

His only ally is Brill (Gene Hackman), a mysterious, bitterly funny former intelligence operative with a grudge against his old masters at NSA. Though initially reluctant to help Dean, Brill soon warms to the task of turning the tables on Reynolds and his overzealous underlings.

Though Smith proves he's got the star power to carry a film and the range to play dramatic parts, his role is not much more complicated than Eddie Murphy's in Bruckheimer's "Beverly Hills Cop." Voight's rabid spook bears a sneaking resemblance to Oliver North, and Hackman's cagey Brill is the film's best-acted, most entertaining character.

Hackman played a similar character in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," a 1974 movie that pioneered the paranoia-conspiracy genre and along with "Three Days of the Condor" clearly influenced David Marconi's slick but less than sagacious screenplay.

"Enemy of the State," of course, is not telling us anything we don't already know, nor does it offer any solutions for the great dilemmas of the information age. Perhaps that's why it left the last word on the subject to the inescapable cameo kid, Larry King. Who better to wag a finger at invasiveness than a talk show host?

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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