The tagline for "Enemy of the State" is "It's not paranoia if they're
really after you." Leaving the theater following the popcorn thriller
about an innocent man caught in a web of secret agents, surveillance
equipment and deadly covert activities, I wondered how the movie might
affect any genuine paranoids in the audience. Just imagine some poor guy,
feverishly twitching in his seat, thinking "I knew it, they're really out
there! If fact, they probably create movies just like this to convince us
that these kind of activities are too fantastic to be true, thereby
lulling us into a false sense of security."
For anyone concerned that the elaborate high-level intrigue portrayed in
"Enemy of the State" reflects reality, let's look at a recent example of
governmental effectiveness. It took conservatives several years and
millions of dollars just to prove that President Clinton "got some" on
the side, and, months after the revelation, he's still in office and the
Republicans got clobbered in the elections. That, ladies and gentlemen,
is how our government works.
In "Enemy of the State," Will Smith plays attorney and family man Robert
Clayton Dean. Life is good for the Washington DC lawyer, until he bumps
into Zavitz (Jason Lee), an old college buddy. After their brief
encounter, Zavitz is chased by government operatives, only to be struck
down and killed on a nearby highway. Dean, shaken by the death of his
friend, returns home, unaware that Zavitz slipped him a disc documenting
the assassination of a Congressman by the same group of goons. In short
order, agents knock on Dean's door and the young professional ends up on
the run; with his credit and job destroyed, his marriage in a shambles
and lots of scary guys trying to kill him.
With "Independence Day" and "Men in Black" on his résumé, and "The Wild
Wild West" due next summer, Will Smith clearly knows how to pick crowd-
pleasing movies and "Enemy of the State" should provide him another hit.
The film, from "Armageddon" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and "True Romance"
director Tony Scott, is fast-paced and packed with action and thrills.
As always, Smith is a likable and convincing all-American hero who
manages to deliver good one-liners between chases and feats of derring-do.
Smith works best when paired with older actors, and he has a great one
here, with Gene Hackman giving a crisp performance as a former operative
of the National Security Agency. The two actors work very well together.
As a matter of fact, "Enemy of the State" is notable for having a far
more talented cast than your average action/thriller. Jon Voight gives
his most focused performance in quite some time as a corrupt State
Department official. The seasoned veteran is surrounded by a very
impressive group of bright young actors playing assorted smooth-talking
snakes, techno-geeks and government thugs. Stand outs include Jack Black
("Mars Attacks!"), Loren Dean ("Gattica"), Barry Pepper ("Saving Private
Ryan"), Jamie Kennedy ("Scream 2"), Ian Hart ("The Butcher Boy"), and
Jake Busey ("Home Fries").
As if that wasn't enough, Gabriel Byrne pops up, along with "Chasing
Amy's" Jason Lee, James Le Gros from "Drugstore Cowboy," "Frasier's" Dan
Butler and Jason Robards, in an uncredited performance as a Congressman
with fatal integrity. Add "Angel Heart's" Lisa Bonet and Regina King from
"How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and you're talking about one hell of a
Bruckheimer and Scott were wise to load their film with so many talents,
because it takes actors this good to obscure the many implausibility's of
the film. Beneath the non-stop barrage of high-tech surveillance and
action scenes, "Enemy of the State" contains a coincidence-filled
storyline held together by duct tape. In addition, a couple of the chases
go on too long and the ending, while satisfying, is way too pat to be
But, of course, we're not supposed to believe any of this. After all,
"Enemy of the State" is just a silly, entertaining, over-the-top paranoid
thriller and none of it could ever happen in real life. Or maybe that's
just what they want us to think...
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott