'Enemy of the Sate' is not great, but it does the job

by Jenn Van Der Kwast | 11/23/98 6:00am

"Enemy of the State" has all the action, a little of the technical innovation and absolutely none of the sense of humor that a Hollywood blockbuster film should have.

This film, the most recent of Will Smith vehicles, unfortunately does nothing to display the true talents of its lead star. Smith plays Robert Dean, a Georgetown labor lawyer, who has unknowingly acquired a computer disk which reveals in perfect detail the murder of a senator who had refused to pass a bill allowing the government unrestricted surveillance capabilities for the purpose of national security.

The film follows Dean, as he continually dodges and flees from the corrupt government official behind the murder and his band of highly-trained, technologically-astute, ex-military "special-ops."

Smith is believable as the unyielding victim of a government conspiracy he knows nothing about, and yet it is a pity that his role doesn't allow any of the wise-cracking confrontations that make many of Smith's former characters so beloved. In fact, the few one-liners that Smith does have in the film fall embarrassingly flat since they are so out of character.

On the other hand, the actors in the film's supporting cast are surprisingly well chosen. Jamie Kennedy, known for his role as Randy in "Scream," plays one of the technological wizards behind the surveillance team. Regina King, who plays Dean's wife, Stacy, is recalled as Marcee Tidwell, wife of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in "Jerry Maguire." In "Enemy of the State," she provides the film with its most overt and vehement advocate for privacy in an increasingly monitored society. And Jake Busey, perhaps destined to follow his father Gary Busey's legacy of playing the roles of quintessential bad guys, appears here as special op Krug.

The cast, however, remains one of unrealized potential throughout the film since the unremarkable script never quite gives any of its talented actors the chance to rise of above poorly-developed and predictably flat, secondary roles.

Perhaps most notable of all these supporting actors is Gene Hackman who plays Brill, an expert working in the private sector of surveillance. The role of Brill is a nod to the film "The Conversation" directed by Francis Ford Coppola in 1974, in which Hackman played basically the same isolated and clever surveillance expert. "The Conversation," is, at any rate, a far more profound, and yet just as suspenseful, look at the controversial issue of privacy and surveillance.

Certain scenes in "Enemy of the State," are nevertheless both fascinating and terrifying when they suggest that no one is ever safe from the all-seeing eye of the government. Tracking devices and helicopter chases are basically old-school in this film. Director Tony Scott has actually included computer-digitalized footage of realigning satellite dishes in outerspace to pinpoint targets on rooftops or on busy streets. When the special ops reexamine their satellite visuals they lament the fact that satellite images are uni-directional and can only observe people from above. "That's kind of limiting," remarks Krug.

Not only that, but when Smith ducks into the side door of a highway underpass, the same refuge his girlfriend, played by Vivica Fox, sought in "Independence Day" to successfully avoid the catastrophic flames of an invading alien force, he still has not escaped his more earthly enemies. Even underground, the surveillance team has managed to commandeer use of the underpass security cameras to track his every move.

Still, despite such obvious homages to earlier action films, Tony Scott's cinematic style is especially unique. The opening credits are highly stylized and frantic. Using various forms of digital effects, undercranked fast motion photography and rapid editing, he successfully conveys a brave new modern world where the reproduced image is everywhere.

Scott could be a pioneer of a new wave of cinematic technique where the pace is frenzied and fragmented. Here, however, the style is inconsistent. Just as we get pulled into the repeated visual bombardment used in the chase scenes or the more suspensefully dramatic moments of the film, Scott goes back to more the standard and unexciting style for dialogue-driven, plot-developing scenes. Since there is very little plot to be developed, the scenes seem to be a waste of time. We know even before the opening credits roll who the killer is and why he did it.

The lack of an original plotline, of any highly developed characters or of a consistent visual style should not detract from the fact that "Enemy of the State" is still an enjoyable movie-watching experience. The opening chase scene alone, with the unfortunately short-lived character played by Jason Lee, is highly entertaining as he thwarts his special op persecutors by remaining indoors, untracked, barrelling through restaurants and lingerie shops, until he decides to make his final, unsuccessful getaway on bicycle.

The highspeed bicycle chase ends in disaster, however, when Lee is killed off by an oncoming bus. Sadly, none of the following highspeed chase-scenes in the film ever have the same thrill, but they are none-the-less at least mildly entertaining .

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