Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams costar in "Flashpoint," a fast- moving but slow-going story about two guys with an abnormal fear of men in suits.
The government is the demon in this messy recycle of the Kennedy conspiracy, an anti-fascist manifesto with veiled references to the Nixon administration. Washington agents menace two border guards after the pair uncover a car buried in the desert, the skeleton inside, $800,000 in cash, a couple of phone numbers and a high-power rifle with scope.
Kristofferson and Williams play the partners, molasses-mouthed Texas border patrolmen who scour their territory for illegal aliens (what would a movie be without aliens) and find dates. Tess Harper and Jean Smart, as stranded telephone operators, become throw-away love interests -- as if this tangle could take complications.
Still it's a fair premise based on a mystery by George La Fountaine. But the adaptation proves too complex for first-time director William Tannen, who can't sustain the suspense or play the plot lines into a coherent whole. So he gets jeeps. Kristofferson and Williams drive in the desert, spraying sand and scaring jack rabbits in a desperate attempt to take up the slack with cheap thrills. In the background, the soundtrack throbs with false anxiety. The cinematographer pans the ravaged arroyos, under sun-bathed mountains. We are terrified.
More than 70 percent of the footage is sheer scenery. And as the director gets more desperate, the tone shifts from a country-western CHiPs to a slo-mo shoot-'em-up, a poor boy's Sam Peckinpah. When the plot's obviously a jumble, there's an emergency wrap-up with Williams setting out the clues like Charlie Chan in a cactus patch.
Williams overacts wildly, going into hysterics when a couple shucks would have done. Tess Harper seems morose and bewildered. Kristofferson is able. Smart is sure of her gum-popping performance. And Kurtwood Smith makes the most enthusiastic villain you ever saw. He and several other straight arrows skulk around the yucca, but they never take their suits off. "Every morning I get up I thank God for drugs and murder and subversion," says Smith.
"Who are you really?" wonders Kristofferson. And so do we. And we never find out either. So what's the point? And where's the flash? Oh, well, it was a pretty good title, but they should have called it "Jeeps."
FLASHPOINT -- At area theaters.