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‘Clear and Present Danger’

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 03, 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
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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In reality, intelligence agency may have become something of an oxymoron, but not in the clandestine universe of Phillip Noyce's "Clear and Present Danger," an absorbing, if overlong adaptation of Tom Clancy's bestseller. More a cerebral dilemma than an action-packed adventure, the film explodes from time to time, but mostly takes place in offices. It is probably also the first espionage thriller to climax in a mouse-to-mouse cyber-feud.

Harrison Ford stars as the CIA's answer to Columbo, the rumpled superspook Jack Ryan, for whom every day is a bad hair day. Merely an analyst in "Patriot Games," Ryan is here promoted to acting deputy director of intelligence when Adm. James Greer (James Earl Jones) is hospitalized with pancreatic cancer. While Ryan's beloved mentor bravely suffers through chemotherapy, Ryan investigates the murder of a prominent businessman with close ties to the president (Donald Moffat).

When Ryan and his people link the murder to a Colombian drug lord, Ernesto Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval), the president indirectly authorizes the national security adviser (Harris Yulin) and a CIA deputy director (Henry Czerny) to conduct covert retributions in South America. Clark (Willem Dafoe), a CIA field agent equipped with high-tech communications gear, commands a handpicked mission from his hotel room.

With help from hackers and other techies at Langley, Ryan realizes that his superiors and maybe even the president are not only abusing their powers but endangering the lives of innocents in the company of Escobedo, a drug lord who presents less of a threat to American peace of mind than coffee advocate Juan Valdez. And like Ryan, Escobedo has an internal enemy, a trusted counselor (Joaquim de Almeida) who plots to dispose of him and take over the cartel.

Iced coffee runs in the counselor's veins as played by Almeida, whose performance is nearly as strong as Czerny's as Ryan's steely-eyed CIA opponent, Moffat's wickedly funny chief executive and Dafoe's dashing Bogota-based operative. Anne Archer and the rest of Ryan's film family featured in "Patriot Games" make brief appearances here, but Ford alone must stand up for God, country and family values.

There's a little bit of Mr. Smith in Ford's Jack Ryan and there's a little bit of Capra in the techno-thriller as written and rewritten by Donald Stewart, Steven Zaillian and John Milius. Unfortunately, this calls for an overblown denouement in which an outraged Ryan gives hell to the chief. This exchange of "how dare yous" aside, the film is more adult in terms of real issues certainly than "True Lies."

Noyce, who also directed "Patriot Games," manages to keep the complex story lines from snarling even though he relies heavily on crosscutting. The technique, which he uses ingeniously here, enlivens scenes that are technologically driven and potentially deadly.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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