Smith and Hackman fight for normalcy in fun conspiracy thriller Enemy of the State

First off, a word about the most exciting thing to hit theaters recently: no, it’s not one of the various big-budget holiday movies; it’s the trailer for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This thing has been getting more attention than any new movies that have come out lately, and it has already been seen by more people than any preview for movies coming out in the next few weeks. We’ll have to put on hip-waders to get through all the hype that is sure to come before next May, when the movie will actually be released.

That said, the trailer is pretty intriguing. The whole thing is full of ominous touches and ironic foreshadowing that will have audiences nodding knowingly (“Obi-Wan Kenobi, meet Anakin Skywalker”). The movie also looks like it’ll be cursed with same thing that bogged down Return of the Jedi – cuteness. The Ewoks were bad, but beware, computer-generated effects have made leaps and bounds in the realm of cute aliens. From the trailer it is apparent that George Lucas has had his computers working at light speed. The movie may well have more computer effects than real action.

Anyway, the real subject of this review is Enemy of the State, which was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. I went into this movie expecting to see more of the usual Bruckheimer action fare: big action, jokes, patriotism and a less than amazing plot. This is especially true since all the movies he’s produced recently have been pretty much the same. (Think The Rock, Con Air, Armageddon.) But then, those movies were directed by Simon West and Michael Bay, two pure hacks. Enemy of the State was directed by Tony Scott. While not a particularly good director, Scott has had a directorial career outside of the perfidious influence of the Bruckheimer machine. His movies (The Hunger and True Romance) are not quite as hollow as the ones that Bruckheimer has produced of late.

Ultimately, Enemy of the State succeeds because Scott is not completely void of intelligence. Also, there is a good match between the movie’s style and its content: namely, extreme paranoia. Enemy is all about being watched and recorded from every possible angle everywhere one goes. In this context, the movie’s fast-paced, over-edited style works extremely well to suggest that no one is safe anywhere. It is like a frantic action version of The Truman Show.

Enemy also succeeds because David Marconi’s script is fairly well written. The movie stars Will Smith as Robert Dean, a slick D.C. lawyer. Dean happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes the victim of a powerful and paranoid government plot led by the evil Jon Voight. I particularly enjoyed that the specifics of the plot — the actual reasons for going after Will Smith — are pretty much ignored for most of the movie.

None of this matters to Will Smith’s character, and at least we’re spared the stereotypical “let’s expose the bad guys” plot. All Smith cares about is getting his life back to normal, and that’s as it should be. Instead of being an over-the-top superhero, he’s just an ordinary guy. His performance is fine, although I would have liked it better had it included fewer tension-breaking one-liners.

Gene Hackman must have a pretty good agent because while he gets second billing for this movie, he’s really only in its last half. As usual, he does a good job. Strangely, though, Enemy of the State references The Conversation , one of Hackman’s best movies from the seventies. The Conversation was one of the first and best movies on the subject of conspiracy and surveillance, so it is interesting to see how Hollywood conspiracy theories have changed since then.

Enemy of the State has a colorful supporting cast, including such familiar faces as Jason Robards, Gabriel Byrne and Lisa Bonet. And if you’re Italian and you like to be offended, be sure to watch for Tom Sizemore as the stereotypical Mafia guy. This movie has its flaws: it’s a bit too long, some of the action is a bit ridiculous, and the plot has its share of holes. However, Enemy of the State is a lot of creepy fun, with plenty of good paranoid touches; it is definitely an action movie for the end of the millennium.

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