Phillips' 'Ambition' a failure

June 04, 1991|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

ONE OF THE supporting characters in ''Ambition'' dies a lingering death, but the movie dies long before he does.

Lou Diamond Phillips stars in this new film. He also wrote the script, and that may have been a mistake -- he may have been too close to the project.

Phillips plays Mitchell Osgood, the owner of a Los Angeles book store who wants to make it as a novelist, so much so that he is willing to deny his heritage. In the end, he is also willing to kill, but by that time, we no longer care.

The last 15 minutes of ''Ambition'' are suspenseful, even a bit exciting, but most of what passes before is lost time.

The writer, hearing that a killer is about to be released from prison, tries to persuade the parolee to allow the writer to do the killer's story. The killer says no way, but that doesn't deter the writer, who begins to dog the parolee. Eventually, he offers the killer a job in his bookstore. The owner, to make room for the new employee, fires a young man, and this is the first time we begin to suspect that the would-be writer is a bit deranged.

This is also about the time the script begins to malfunction. Is this man consumed by ambition, or is he just a little buggy? Should the film be called ''Ambition'' or ''Insanity?''

Under either title, the movie bores. Haing S. Ngor is the writer's father, a man who reminds his son that he is a Filipino-American, that denying his background is not especially admirable, and why is he trying to pass?

The son loves his father, but he also wants to get rid of him. The father is bedridden, and his son must care for him. How to solve the problem? Well, first, you steal the killer's lithium, substitute a harmless powder and wait until the parolee begins to lose it, again. When he does, you manipulate him into killing the old man.

The writer, meanwhile, is putting all this down, as a novel. This is good stuff, he thinks. It should have no trouble finding a publisher.

In the end, it is the paroled killer who saves the day. He eventually discovers that he is being set up and begins that long drive to the home of the writer, hoping to get there before the man does any real damage.

''Ambition'' may be the first, or one of the first, films in which a paroled killer, a madman, turns out to be the hero.

Beyond this, ''Ambition'' fails. Its goals are never realized.

Phillips, in long flowing hair, does well enough, but well enough doesn't do it. Clancy Brown is the released killer, Cecilia Peck is ,, the girl who loves the writer then begins to fear for her life, and Richard Bradford is the parole officer who goes the way Martin Balsam did in ''Psycho.'' We are not at all surprised.

Grace Zabriskie plays the killer's mother, who meets the writer and her son at a restaurant, then walks out in a fit of tears. It could have been an interesting scene, but it is all too obvious, as is most of the film. ''Ambition'' is showing at local theaters.


* A would-be writer hopes to do the life story of a released killer.

CAST: Lou Diamond Phillips, Clancy Brown, Cecilia Peck, Richard Bradford, Grace Zabriskie

DIRECTOR: Scott D. Goldstein

RATING: R (violence, nudity, language)

) RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

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