The Sum of All Fears Movie Review

The biggest mystery in The Sum of All Fears is not how terrorists manage to smuggle a nuclear bomb into downtown Baltimore. Rather, it's how CIA operative Jack Ryan, formerly played by Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford, has suddenly become 30 years younger and has turned into a junior agent at the CIA with only a few months of experience. In the hands of Ben Affleck, Ryan is no longer the commanding veteran he once was in films like Patriot Games. Now he's little more than a jerky teenager with a hot girlfriend and a chip on his shoulder.

I won't try to explain the metamorphosis of Ryan because it's never mentioned in the movie (and no, it's not a prequel; the film takes place in the present). Central to the plot is the hunt for an old nuclear bomb lost by the Israelis in 1973 and recovered, sold, and rebuilt by various arms dealers, terrorists, and neo-Nazi groups decades later. Their idea is to blow up the bomb in the U.S., blame it on the Russians, ignite a massive nuclear response from both sides, and -- in the greatest stretch of imagination ever to strike a Hitler enthusiast -- somehow survive WWIII and seize control of the world in the aftermath.

And it's up to Jack Ryan to stop it! With his boss Cabot (Morgan Freeman in a throwaway role) he plays politics with the President (James Cromwell) and his cookie-cutter staff (Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin, and Bruce McGill), and goes on various intelligence missions in Russia and the Middle East in order to track the bomb and its makers. Most of this is for naught, however, when the villains do get the bomb into the U.S. and they do blow it up, taking out not just a big chunk of the city of Baltimore but its football team, too. After that, it's again up to a panicked Ryan, when he's not inexplicably joyriding through the burning streets of Baltimore, to stop a full-scale nuclear response.

The plot bears some resemblance to pretty good "bomb hunt" thrillers like Black Sunday and The Peacemaker, only The Sum of All Fears rarely makes any sense. In one scene Ryan has only just missed the bomb in the Ukraine -- the blood on the now-slain scientists who built it is fresh -- and in the very next scene, two weeks have gone by, the bomb already installed in the U.S. What, did Ryan take a long vacation while the nuke came over on the boat? The movie jumps around from place to place in emulation of a James Bond thriller, but without any sense of direction. Ryan is always behind the ball, and his general inability to do anything constructive really makes for a pathetic viewing experience over two and a half hours.

Fortunately, the movie at least hints at realism with its depictions of the way a rogue nuclear device might be constructed and secretly delivered to a target in the United States -- as well as the aftermath of its detonation. For that (and for its message that warns against jumping to conclusions), the movie is not a total loss. Liev Schreiber's cold CIA field agent/assassin is the only character worth exploring, and he only gets a scant five or ten minutes of screen time. Unfortunately, the remainder of the film -- the one-dimensional characters, the threadbare story structure, and workmanlike production values -- amount to the unequivocal death of the Jack Ryan franchise.

Need I say: The sum of all my fears is another Ben Affleck-as-Jack Ryan movie.

The fear of all slums.


The Sum of All Fears Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2002


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