"Clear and Present Danger" threatens everybody concerned with it. This movie is what a thriller should never be -- boring -- and it points up the void left behind by the disappearance of the International Communist Conspiracy.
Professional hawks such as Tom Clancy, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, and John Milius, the weapons- and mayhem-infatuated screenwriter of "Apocalypse Now" whose fingerprints are all over the film, simply don't know what to do with themselves. The threat to the American way of life posed by Colombian drug lords doesn't catch the imagination, as did the Reds'.
Add to this the inept direction of
Phillip Noyce and a somewhat misguided performance by its star, the usually dependable Harrison Ford, and you have a recipe for disaster.
There's nothing clear about "Clear and Present Danger" -- it's a muddled and confusing film. Part of the problem is its inane screenplay. Milius is actually the last of the writers credited; the others are Donald Stewart ("Patriot Games" and "The Hunt for Red October") and Steven Zaillian ("Schindler's List" and "Awakenings"). When such powerful -- and different -- hands are involved, something's almost always wrong with the stew.
So many plots abound in "Clear and Present" that the viewer needs a score card. A friend of the unethical and stuffy U.S. president (Donald Moffat) has been brutally murdered (along with his wife and family) by the henchmen of a Colombian drug lord, Escobedo (Miguel Sandoval). The furious president declares a re
newed war on drugs -- and he goes about it in ways both legal and illegal.
The legal part is just a cover for the illegal operations. Jack Ryan (Ford) -- who has become acting deputy director of intelligence because his mentor, Admiral Greer
(James Earl Jones), is dying of cancer -- is duped into going before a Senate committee to ask for additional funds to help the Colombian government fight its drug cartels. But the money will actually be used
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for a super-secret operation (with U.S. Special Forces), targeting Escobedo.
So, one part of the CIA (led by Ryan) is on the up and up, while another, led by the evil and amoral Ritter (Henry Czerny), the agency's deputy director of operations, is conducting an illegal war. This gets even more complicated. The agency's field operation is conducted by Clark (Willem Dafoe), who's basically a good guy and doesn't realize that Ritter has been lying to him. This leads to yet another subplot, involving the young men in the Special Forces squad in the jungle.
Meanwhile, confusion reigns in the way the film deals with the drug lord's empire. Escobedo's director of intelligence, Cortez (Joaquim de Almeida), is plotting against him. Eventually, Cortez joins forces -- after first blackmailing him -- with Cutter (Harris Yulin), the U.S. president's weak national security adviser who has authorized Ritter to do his evil work. This generates still more complications, as the president, Cutter, Ritter and Cortez set out to destroy the mission and the men conducting it.
The film is actually much more
complicated and confusing than this sounds -- and it's plodding to boot.
Matters become muddier still when the honest, decent and law-abiding Ryan finally figures out what the president and his men are up to. All the splashily filmed bombings, murders and battles in "Clear and Present Danger" can't compensate for its too luxuriant plotting and its pedestrian direction by Noyce, who did better work in the simpler "Patriot Games."
What is somewhat surprising is Harrison Ford's performance as Jack Ryan. This actor, so convincing as Ryan in "Patriot Games," does not
give a bad performance so much as one that seems to belong to another movie.
That movie is "Regarding Henry" -- in which Ford played a lawyer of somewhat questionable ethics who is transformed into a beacon of decency when he's shot in the head and rendered a simpleton. It's incredible that a lifelong intelligence analyst would be surprised, as Ford's Ryan is, to discover that the chairwoman of a Senate subcommittee might be suspicious about a request for additional CIA funds.
What's all too credible about "Clear and Present Danger" is that its
confused plotting and pedestrian pace make it a movie worth avoiding.
"Clear and Present Danger"
Starring Harrison Ford, Willem Dafoe and Joaquim de Almeida
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Released by Paramount Pictures