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‘Patriot Games’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 05, 1992

Given the creative recession in the movies, you could do worse than sit through "Patriot Games." If this would-be blockbuster slavishly follows summer movie guidelines, it does so well -- or adequately. Neither poisonous nor great, it never loses sight of its mall-movie mandate, to defend American hearth and home against invincible boy-toy bogymen.

In this very loose adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel (which the author publicly lambasted), inactive CIA analyst Harrison Ford, wife Anne Archer and daughter Thora Birch find themselves the nuclear-family target of a vengeful Irish terrorist. On vacation with his family in London, Ford heroically intervenes in an assassination attempt on royal family member James Fox.

In the melee, Ford kills the baby brother of mega-assassin Sean Bean. That's bad. That's very bad. Now Ford and Archer have to watch their backs for a man with no regard for human life or clean shaving techniques.

The movie, which flits around the globe, is an extended set of climaxes posing as a story. There's a bomb explosion in London, deadly traffic trouble on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an aerial attack in North Africa and -- scariest of all -- tension in a Belfast pub.

"Games" also indulges in gee-whiz modern warfare. Rejoining the CIA, Ford searches for Bean and fellow terrorists Patrick Bergin and Polly Walker with satellite surveillance. Using sophisticated image magnification (the way he did in "Blade Runner"), Ford finds he can identify a woman's bust line in the Sahara all the way from Langley, Va. He even gets to watch the "neutralization" of an enemy camp over there, live.

"It's over," says CIA spymaster James Earl Jones, who runs overseas reprisals like a kindly family dentist performing a minor tooth extraction.

The state-of-the-art cat-and-mousing is there to parboil the vigilante emotions before the predictable finale -- which will be held chez Ford. By that time, the stakes have become so high, Archer (an intelligent doctor) tells her husband: "You get him. I don't care what you have to do -- just get him." Reaching later for the trusty family rifle, she complains, "Oh God, Jack, what did you do with the shells?"

Paramount Pictures (hoping to make more Clancy movies) asks you to enjoy -- and overlook -- the hyping of everything. For one thing, Bean's terrorist outfit (a breakaway faction of the IRA) has an operating budget the Pentagon would die for. They have top-of-the-line speedboats, infrared storm-the-fortress equipment, nasty car bombs and the usual glut of machine guns. They have easy access to London cabs and Libyan ships. Of course they're thick as thieves with Moammar Gadhafi.

Director Phillip Noyce, who made the gripping thriller "Dead Calm," has earned his directorial hack license here. With the knowing assistance of scriptwriters Donald Stewart (who did Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October") and W. Peter Illif (creator of the ridiculously formulaic "Point Break"), "Games" accomplishes its high-stakes mission. But even in the mindless throes of summer, it still feels like a dull triumph.

Copyright The Washington Post

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