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Hinson — 'Bulletproof Heart'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1995


Mark Malone
Anthony LaPaglia;
Peter Boyle;
Monika Schnarre;
Matt Craven
Under 17 restricted

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Considering that it traffics in nearly every noir cliche in the book, Mark Malone's "Bulletproof Heart" is far more entertaining than it has any right to be.

According to Malone, who contributed the story for Gordon Melbourne's script, the movie was conceived under the influence of nihilism, and, brother, does it show. Its protagonist is Mick (Anthony LaPaglia), a coldblooded assassin for hire in New York. Mick is a killer, pure and simple, and in the past he has seen his ability to detach himself from his work as a kind of strength, proof of his professionalism.

Recently, though, he's begun to feel the human parts of himself slipping away. One night, after a particularly delicate job, his appreciative employer, George (Peter Boyle), sends him a beautiful young "masseuse" (Monika Schnarre) as a tip. But despite the woman's willingness and allure, Mick remains indifferent—that is, until she gives him a pair of scissors with which to snip off her underwear and, for an instant, he toys with the notion of plunging them into her chest.

It's a brief moment of disgust and revelation, but it convinces Mick that it's time to get out of the business. Complications arise, though, when George shows up pleading with him to do one last gig. The target is Fiona (Mimi Rogers), a well-heeled, rather glacial New York swinger who has run up an exorbitant debt with some guys who don't like it when their customers miss payments. These guys want Fiona clipped, and it has to be done tonight.

Basically, Mick has no choice: If he doesn't make the hit on the lady, the bad guys make a hit on George. Then Mick meets the lady and, suddenly, everything changes. It's not so much that Fiona is expecting Mick when he arrives at her front door; George had told him she would be. It's that she is so matter-of-fact, so eerily serene.

From the moment he lays eyes on her, Mick is puzzled to distraction by Fiona's calm in the face of death. Part of him is convinced that she's got some scam up her sleeve; the other part has fallen in love with her and wants to come to her rescue.

Overriding everything, of course, is Mick's code of professional ethics. He has contracted to do a job, and according to the rules of the game, there's not much he can do except carry out his instructions. Throughout all this, LaPaglia keeps us interested in his hollow character by showing his frustration at not being able to figure this dame out. And as the dawn approaches, Mick finds himself violating every rule he has set for himself during his career and opening up himself emotionally in ways that terrify him.

As surprisingly good as LaPaglia is, the movie is anchored, really, by Rogers's quiet gravity. A twist in the story later on explains some of Fiona's actions—but not all of them. There's a weariness in Fiona that goes beyond her present circumstances, and that somehow hooks up perfectly with Mick's feelings of meaninglessness. LaPaglia and Rogers are excellent, both separately and together.

Also, Boyle does an inventive job of finding new wrinkles in his typical slob character. However, the story demands that we spend far too much time in a subplot involving Archie (Matt Craven), a hyperactive would-be killer who botched the last job and is eager to prove himself a real man in the eyes of George and Mick.

Archie is the loose cannon in the film, and his presence raises the chances of catastrophe to a certainty. But he is also its least interesting character, and when he's on-screen, he drags the picture back into formula.

Bulletproof Heart, at the Key, is rated R.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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