Many film critics are frustrated screenwriters and wannabe directors. Occasionally one of us escapes the asylum and manages to get a movie made (Roger Ebert wrote "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls").
Even less frequently one of us makes a good movie (former reviewer Peter Brockdonovich directed "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon").
But most of the time critics-cum-filmmakers fall flat on their faces like Rod Lurie, the former KABC radio reviewer who wrote and directed the howlingly bad "Deterrence," a cold war remnant that tries to recreate the tension of a nuclear stand-off by giving Saddam Hussien's son a secret, world-wide arsenal and pitting him against an embattled president, snowed-in at a Colorado diner during the crisis.
The whole picture takes place in this diner, where President Walter Emmerson (former stand-up comedian Kevin Pollak) spends half the movie talking on satellite phones to advisers and world leaders while a passel of nervous patrons looks on.
Pretentious, ludicrous, unskilled and about a decade too late to be effectively suspenseful, this Red Scare-spawn B-movie reeks of cheap production values, amateurish directorial decisions (unmotivated dramatic camera zooms accompanied by an irritatingly insistent, "Twilight Zone"-style score) and lame dramatic gimmicks (it's shot partially in black-and-white).
It's almost impossible to buy the cigar-chomping Pollak as presidential timber, too (although he is just a VP who took over the office after the president died). As he ignores his advisers (Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph) and plays the hawk -- insisting he won't back down to terrorist threats and will retaliate in kind -- the audience grows to hate this guy, which makes sitting through the movie an even more excruciating.
Although it has a few strong moments when Pollak butts heads with Hutton and Ralph over his hard-line stance, "Deterrence" becomes seriocomical when the peanut gallery of supporting players (a trucker, a waitress, a bickering couple playing chess -- ooo! the symbolism!) start offering their unsolicited opinions.
After writing himself into a dramatic corner, Lurie opts for a last reel cop-out so insultingly absurd and nonsensical that it's not only a slap in the face of the audience, but also erases any semblance of integrity Pollak's president might have had.
This movie has been sitting on a shelf for two years, and it's no wonder. It's an embarrassment. The bad news is, Lurie has another picture coming out later this year called "The Contender" about a female vice president caught in a sex scandal. I can't tell you how much I'm dreading that.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th March 2000
Distributed by: Paramount Home Video
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 21
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Rod Lurie
Starring: Kevin Pollak as Walter Emerson, Timothy Hutton as Marshall Thompson, Sheryl Lee Ralph as Gayle Redford, Clotilde Courau as Katie, Sean Astin as Ralph, Mark Thompson as Gerald Irvin, Michael Mantell as Taylor Woods, Kathryn Morris as Lizzie Woods, Ryan Cutrona as Agent Dexter, Joe McCrackin as Agent Williams, Scoot Powell as Noah, J. Scott Shonka as Captain Coddington, Jim Curley as Admiral Miller, Rigg Kennedy as Howard, James Handy as Lancaster, Graham Galloway as George Carvelli, John Cirigliano as Martin Keller, Amit Mehta as Abu Hussein, Steve Loglisci as Nick Marcario, Kristen Shaw as Alexandra, Robert Harvey as Agent Hunter, June Lockhart as Secretary of State Clift, Badja Djola as Harvey
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