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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Enemy of the State (1998)
2 Stars

Directed by Tony Scott
Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Regina King, Jon Voight, Loren Dean, Lisa Bonet, Gabriel Byrne, Seth Green, Jack Black, Jake Busey, Jamie Kennedy, Barry Pepper.
1998 – 128 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 21, 1998.

Well, with "Enemy of the State," the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced and Tony Scott-directed action picture, two things are certain: this film is five times better than Bruckheimer's previous embarrassment, "Armageddon," and Scott is a much better director than "Armageddon" alumni, Michael Bay. Of course, that isn't to say that, "Enemy of the State," is actually good. It's just saying that it isn't terrible.

In a refreshing change of pace from usually playing a comedic role, Will Smith stars as Robert Dean, a high-pofile lawyer with a loving wife (Regina King) and young son (Jascha Washington) living in Georgetown, Maryland, who finds his pleasant life quickly start to crumble around him. While in a lingerie store buying something for his wife for Christmas, a former college friend (Jason Lee) of his bursts in, tries to tell him something, and then while Robert isn't looking, drops a piece of incriminating evidence into his shopping bag that is proof that the National Security Agency murdered a congressman (Jason Robards, who appears unbilled) for opposing a Telecommunications Security and Privacy Act. Immediately afterwards, the friend is hit by a truck and killed while being chased by the NSA. After Robert is linked to the tape that shows the murder, his clothes unknowingly are bugged, and he must leave his wife and go on the run, even though he does not know what they want, at first.

The premise of, "Enemy of the State," is a complex one, to be sure, as it also includes a subplot involving Robert and his former girlfriend (Lisa Bonet), which I personally found more interesting than the central storyline. For the first hour, I was intrigued by, "Enemy of the State," and surprised that it wasn't simply a non-stop action movie without any character development. The setup for the film was entertaining and clever enough, and I liked the relationship set up between Smith and Regina King, who is a criminally underrated actress. Meanwhile, Smith and Bonet, who I was happy to see again after her absence since the cancellation of, "The Cosby Show," had a few nice scenes together. And Smith himself, was surprisingly appealing. It is good to see him try a more dramatic, challenging role, so he is one step in the right direction to being a true breakthrough film star. Gene Hackman has a supporting role as Brill, a former agency operative who has been in hiding since 1980, who tries to help Robert, but makes very little impact.

Unfortunately, the main story, although somewhat thought-provoking when dealing with the idea that there is so much high-tech spying equipment and cameras nowadays that, for all we know, we might be being watched non-stop, the conventional action stuff comes into full-blast in the second hour, and to me, it took on a definite "been-there-done-that" feeling. This sort of conventional chase picture has been done to death, and I think the filmmakers could have thought of something a little more original than ending it with a boring shoot-out sequence. It also didn't help that the movie could have easily been shortened by at least fifteen minutes.

What it all comes down to is that, "Enemy of the State," is a step up for Bruckheimer, but is still not very successful, as it still has many of his trademarks: a frenetic pace, odd camera angles, and a bunch of supporting characters who are only there to sit in chairs and read things from monitors. "Enemy of the State," is a sure sign that Bruckheimer might one day be able to make a really good film. That is, if he learns to focus more on the story, rather than a bunch of explosions.

©1998 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman