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‘The First Power’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 06, 1990

Lou Diamond Phillips always seems a tad too young for the movies he appears in, with the exception of "La Bamba," in which, as a youthful, spunky Richie Valens, he was perfectly cast. Also, he's always a tad too interesting for those formula flicks ("Young Guns," "Renegades," "Disorganized Crime"). The face alone, an interesting compromise between handsomeness and impishness, underscored by his multiple heritage (Filipino/Cherokee/Spanish/Irish, etc.), deserves better.

True to form, in "The First Power," Phillips and his face star in something that won't win any awards and in which, once again, we must pretend Lou's a hardbitten grown-up -- in this case, a hardbitten, lapsed-Catholic L.A.-cop grown-up who, after sending a serial killer to the gas chamber, realizes he's been messing with satanic forces. And how does Phillips do? Same again: Slightly better than the movie.

Ah yes, the movie. Writer/director Robert Resnikoff's pitting of good against evil is more like a pitting of "The Omen" against "Starsky and Hutch," a disposable intermixing of son-of-Satan and cop-thriller cliches, featuring the requisite string of murder victims (with bloody pentagrams carved into their bodies). There's a psychic friend (Tracy Griffith) for Phillips who can foretell murders, the usual collection of bad-tempered, doughnut-chewing cops, a suitably ominous quotation from the Old Testament, spiritual mumbo jumbo (the first power, by the way, is the ability of God and Satan to resurrect), and let's not forget the all-purpose bad force (Jeff Kober) who cannot be stopped and whose name is Damian, uh, Jason, no, Freddy, wait, it'll come to me . . . Patrick. Yes, Patrick.

Maybe "First Power" ought to be called "Four or Fifth Power," for all its stealing of bogeyman scare tactics from "Halloween," "Nightmare on Elm Street," "The Terminator," and Wes Craven's "Shocker." It even has the gall to borrow from the loftier "Chinatown" -- when we find out What Really Happened to Patrick (Clue: naughty Grandpa). In fact, "Power" is so shopworn and imitative, you don't need Lou's psychic buddy to tell what is about to happen: Don't go into that confession booth, Lou. Don't turn your back to that window, Lou, and for God's sake, Lou, what do you expect if you reach your hand out to that nun?

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