Moviegoers should be experimental, but not downright foolish. I
knew I was taking a significant risk by trying another movie with Alec
Baldwin in it, but when I saw Eric Roberts name on HEAVEN'S PRISONERS'
opening credits as well, pain hit, and I realized what trouble I was
Baldwin's last flick, THE JUROR, was a major bomb and most of his
other recent films have been equally unsuccessful. Don't get me wrong,
both actors possess great talent, but it is coupled with a death wish
when it comes to finding scripts and with an excessive ego that leads
to heavy overacting. Eric Roberts hasn't given a good performance
since 1983 in his brilliant STAR 80. Alec Baldwin has had a disastrous
career, but with flashes of brilliant film making as in GLENGARRY GLEN
ROSS, MIAMI BLUES, and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER.
I tried, I promise I tried to like this show. Liking a script
(Scott Frank and Harley Peyton based on a book by James Lee Burke) that
is so bad, as I will shortly demonstrate, that you want to laugh at it
rather than with it is not easy. The directing by Phil Joanou is to
create great atmosphere, which he does, and hope for the best. These
actors are not the sort you turn loose on their own. They need a firm
hand, which he never provides.
Let me see if I can give you a feel for this turkey. Ex-cop and
three year sober alcoholic Dave Robicheaux (Alec Baldwin) is in the
confessional. He starts the movie by confessing, "I want a drink. I
want a drink all the time." In the next scene he and his wife Annie
(Kelly Lynch) are on their boat when a plane crashes in the water next
to them. Dave is a hero and rescues the only survivor, a young
Salvadoran girl (Samantha Lagpacan). It seems the girl is an illegal
alien, but also in the plane is drug runner and DEA informant. They
take the girl to a hospital and claim she is her daughter. The nuns
there find it curious that their daughter speaks only Spanish whereas
they only know English.
By inquiring around about the circumstances of the plane crash,
Dave gets in big trouble with the local bad guy, his fellow high school
student, Bubba Rocque (Eric Roberts). Dave explains how tough Bubba
was in high school. "He was one of those guys who were eating light
bulbs and pushing thumbtacks into their kneecaps." Sure. Dave is a
wonder with words. He threatens a bartender named Larry with, "Your
face looks like a good toilet bowl brush." That would sure scare me if
I didn't break out in uncontrollable laughter first. Later he really
frightens poor Larry with, "If I were you, I'd find another ZIP code."
Whew. See what I mean about this sizzling dialog?
It isn't only Dave that gets to say these stupid things. When an
overdrawn evil character threatens his wife while Dave is out, Dave
asks her, "What'd the guy look like?" She stares at him replying, "He
looked like a big bad guy." Well, that would certainly make the police
lineup go faster. Oh yes, all of the leads can never make up their
minds about their accents which fade in and out like the tide.
Break your ear plugs if you come. There are lots of explosions
and general loud sounds as people get shot at and beat up in about
every other scene. Usually, when they fall, they crash into a door or
some such large object. The film is needlessly gory, but the biggest
sadist is editor William Steinkamp who lets the show go on for what
seems forever. I was ready to walk out, but the show at been going on
for almost an hour and a half, so I decided to stay in deference to my
wife who was not visibly as bored as I was. I was shocked to find the
film go on for almost another hour past that. If the devil possesses
your body and forces you to enter the theater, walk out at your first
One final good note, the atmosphere of the Louisiana bayous is
great. The natural sets (John Stoddart) and the dreamy cinematography
(Harris Savides) with streams with hazy light is beautiful.
HEAVEN'S PRISONERS supposedly runs 2:10, but I think it may have
been longer. It is rated R for some nudity, some bad language, and
lots of violence. It would be okay for most teenagers. Be wary of any
movie that is not screened in advance to the local critics as this one
was not. This usually means that the studios know they have a dog on
there hands and are hoping that people will come on the basis of the
stars' names alone. Based on the large size of my audience, this seems
an effective strategy. Do not come anywhere near this disaster. I
give the film 1/2 of a star, but only for the atmosphere.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes