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Murder at 1600

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Murder at 1600

Starring: Wesley Snipes, Diane Lane
Director: Dwight Little
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: April 1997
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Alan Alda, Daniel Benzali, Dennis Miller, Ronny Cox

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

MURDER AT 1600 fits right in with its ancestors - this year's THE SHADOW CONSPIRACY and ABSOLUTE POWER. We have yet another massive conspiracy plot with the White House at the center of the duplicity. Like its forefathers, it stretches credibility way past the breaking point.

All of this having been said, director Dwight Little's MURDER AT 1600 still turns out to be an entertaining thriller. Yes, the story is preposterous and the acting by the supporting cast borders on parody, but the performances by Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane enliven what would otherwise be a pedestrian movie. They appear to believe their material and manage to transfer their acceptance to the audience. Whereas I normally get obsessed with the problems of such a Swiss cheese thriller, this time I found myself swept up into the two heroes' predicaments. They believed, so I believed, and I rooted for them right down to the last chase scene.

"Yeah, yeah, I got a coat and tie," says the D. C. Homicide Detective Harlan Regis (Snipes) as he answers his boss's call. "1600 what?" That's right, there has been a murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and for some reason the Secret Service wants a local cop to investigate.

In the opening scene, Regis establishes his macho prowess, but will this new assignment be more than he can handle? When he arrives at the White House he finds a woman who has been murdered soon after having has sex with someone, but clues are hard to find, and the Secret Service is hiding what it knows under the covers of secrecy. How many people were in the White House at the time of the murder? -- 31, but the official list only has names 30 of them. Regis cannot get the name of the other because of reasons of national security.

When Regis goes to the home of the dead woman, the Secret Service has already stripped it of all the evidence, which it will not show him. Moreover, they managed to arrive at her house only fifteen minutes after she was killed. This does not add up. Except for the First Family, who were at Camp David, Regis considers everyone else possible suspects.

All of this happens quickly at the first of the movie. From there the film, filled with dramatic music (Christopher Young) down in the low registers, moves from surprise to surprise with several obligatory chase scenes to keep the energy going. The sound effects include the requisite number of thunderstorms lest you forget to be frightened.

Beside the impossibility of the script by Wayne Beach and David Hodgin, the dialog borders on the trite, especially in one supercilious speech at the end. Still, the story line twists one way and then another and always keeps your attention. Every time you think you have the mystery figured out, you don't.

Although Snipes has star billing, Diane Lane's performance is equal to his. She plays tough Secret Service agent Nina Chance. She manages to be beautiful without any sexual connotations. She is a career agent trapped between her conscience and her dedication to her position. Both Snipes and Lane play intelligent people with interesting other lives. Regis constructs Civil War battlefield models, and Chance was a gold metal sharpshooter at the Olympics.

Daniel Benzali wins the award for the worst performance in the film. With a constant scowl and a shaved head, he plays the ever menacing Nick Spikings, head of White House security. He grunts most of his lines.

Ronny Cox plays President Jack Neil. President Neil has a hostage crisis to deal with while the murder investigation goes forward. Lambasted as being an ineffectual and indecisive president, his make-up has him looking ready for the undertaker. Alan Alda plays Alvin Jordan, the president's National Security Advisor.

A high energy thriller with two good leads. What more could you ask for? Well to start with, a plot with a tinge of plausibility and a supporting cast that was not embarrassing. Nevertheless, Snipes and Lane manage to carry the movie.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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