MURDER AT 1600

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


At last, a heart thumper. Don't waste a second trying to decide whether "Murder at 1600" is a good movie; just enjoy leaving your life for an hour and a half of full-throttle tension. The whole thing moves at such a clip that there's no time and little reason to criticize the writers, actors, and director. They all did something right. It's always fun when the overwhelming illogic of a thriller doesn't diminish the pleasure.

In their rush to frighten us, filmmakers often make the fatal mistake of taking themselves seriously. The spell breaks, the fun dribbles away--but not here. It doesn't much matter that it's a stretch to watch the White House become an unprotected battleground for psychopaths and heroes. Director Dwight Little understands that he mustn't give us a moment to think. It works.

Propelled by another terrific score by Christopher Young ("Murder in the First," "Copycat"), this murder mystery hits all the right notes for its villains and heroes. It becomes a showcase for Wesley Snipes and Diane Lane, who respond with two very stylish performances.

Detective Harlan Regis (Mr. Snipes) opens the film with a sharp bit of bravado as he prevents the suicide of a disgruntled government official. Now we know he is a DC homicide detective who has seen it all--until he answers a telephone report of a murder and asks in astonishment, "1600 what?"

And so to the White House, where we meet President Jack Neil (Ronny Cox), a decent guy refusing to cave in under pressure from the military to attack North Korea for their refusal to release U.S. prisoners. Poor President Jack is surrounded by a set of advisors that makes even the Clinton staff look benign. Alan Alda, as national security advisor, and Daniel Benzali, oozing nastiness as chief of internal security, and Nick Spiking, are particularly effective.

The implausible but inventive plot absorbs Detective Regis and his new sidekick, Secret Service agent Nina Chance, who defects when she smells something rotten in the Oval Office. They dig through layers of high-level subterfuge to find the killer of the blonde who lies dead in a White House bathroom. Alas, the First Son is a suspect.

Diane Lane is terrific as Nina. With good looks and great pizzazz, she also has the physical coordination and style to be an action hero in her own right. She even manages to be believable as a gold medalist in--yes--sharp shooting. Lane and Wesley Snipes have an easy chemistry that pulls us right onto their team. Half the fun is knowing their characters are as scared as we are.

Bouncing around among Washington's glorious monuments, the movie is a handsome package of suspense. You can enjoy it greatly, as long as you aren't picky. Let's forgive it a finale that's over the top. Preposterous all the way, a film about a good-guy team trying to best a lying White House staff is good sport, especially in 1997.


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h47m


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