Enemy of the State

All movie guide rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The action producing-directing team of Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott is back with another thrill-a-minute ride called Enemy of the State. Taking its "innocent man accidentally caught up in political corruption" story from such films as Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor, they turn up the high-tech volume in an attempt to create the ultimate action film. Robert Clayton Dean, played by Will Smith, is a devoted father, husband, and attorney shopping for a sexy gift for his wife. What he doesn't know is that he was given a videotape from a friend (Jason Lee) regarding the recent murder of a U.S. senator led by corrupt National Security Agency official Thomas Reynolds (Jon Voight). Now Reynolds is after Dean to cover his tracks or, as the audience soon finds out, frame Dean for the murder. Since Dean isn't up on his high-tech gadgetry, he needs the aid of ex-intelligence operative Brill (Gene Hackman). Between the explosions and chases is the subtext of George Orwell's 1984 mantra "beware of big brother," as Dean realizes that in the modern world, there is no such thing as total privacy. -- Arthur Borman, All Movie Guide

Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) is a lawyer with a wife and family whose happily normal life is turned upside down after a chance meeting with a college buddy (Jason Lee) at a lingerie shop. Unbeknownst to the lawyer, he's just been burdened with a videotape of a congressman's assassination. Hot on the tail of this tape is a ruthless group of National Security Agents commanded by a belligerently ambitious fed named Reynolds (Jon Voight). Using surveillance from satellites, bugs, and other sophisticated snooping devices, the NSA infiltrates every facet of Dean's existence, tracing each physical and digital footprint he leaves. Driven by acute paranoia, Dean enlists the help of a clandestine former NSA operative named Brill (Gene Hackman), and Enemy of the State kicks into high-intensity hyperdrive.

Teaming up once again with producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Top Gun director Tony Scott demonstrates his glossy style with clever cinematography and breakneck pacing. Will Smith proves that there's more to his success than a brash sense of humor, giving a versatile performance that plausibly illustrates a man cracking under the strain of paranoid turmoil. Hackman steals the show by essentially reprising his role from The Conversation--just imagine his memorable character Harry Caul some 20 years later. Most of all, the film's depiction of high-tech surveillance is highly convincing and dramatically compelling, making this a cautionary tale with more substance than you'd normally expect from a Scott-Bruckheimer action extravaganza. --Jeremy Storey

While it taps neatly into the prevailing cultural fear of governmental intrusion into private life, Enemy of the State is a de-politicized political thriller in the vein of In the Line of Fire or Absolute Power, in which politics serves to move the plot along rather than to provoke thought. While no one is going to mistake Tony Scott (Days of Thunder) for Costa-Gavras (Z, Missing), Enemy is a great time, brisk and effective and more thoughtful than those familiar with extravaganzas produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Armageddon) have come to expect.

At the start, upscale Washington lawyer Smith is unwittingly slipped a videotape by old friend Jason Lee (who is underused, as usual), which contains footage of the murder of a congressman. Jackbooted operatives from the ever-mystical National Security Agency (under the aegis of Jon Voight, playing his latest in a series of phlegmatic villains) spend most of the movie trying to separate Smith from the tape. Smith spends a great deal of time running from explosions and threatened explosions, his life invaded by an agency that seems to anticipate his every move thanks to phone taps, surveillance equipment, and access to his credit cards and e-mail.

As an ex-NSA agent who comes to Smith's aid, Gene Hackman is fine, though he's played the role of the cantankerous, goodhearted (or, then again, maybe not so goodhearted) crank too many times in the recent past to contemplate his doing it again for a while.

Smith is as capable as ever, even if the viewer is always aware that he is far too famous for anything bad to ultimately happen to him. He's becoming a fine actor, and even better, any time he spends acting is less time he'll spend rapping, which has to be a good thing. -- Allison Stewart