Ford, Pitt and Erin go blah Review: Pitt's IRA bad guy taints Ford's saintly life in 'The Devil's Own' sluggish film.

March 26, 1997|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,SUN FILM CRITIC

"The Devil's Own" slouches toward nowhere to be boring.

Full of passionate density, the movie just sits there, like a head of cabbage boiling in its own broth. It's meant to be an adult thriller, to turn as much on issues of character and politics as on high-tech firepower and advanced pyrotechnics, but it never really clicks into life or even credibility.

Adding to the general air of high folly is some genius' decision to wrap Brad Pitt's tongue around several pounds of corned beef in one of the worst Irish accents since Julia Roberts had a go at "Mary Reilly."

Why hire this bold young American animal, so full of fury and terrible beauty, and then bury his voice behind the uncertain trumpet of an accent he hasn't mastered? Pitt plays a wild boy of the IRA, a one-man firefight named Frankie MacGuire, used to winning arguments with an AK-47. Hunted by Brit murder squads all through Belfast, he's smuggled by supporters to the U.S. where his mission is to buy Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from criminal sources. While underground, he's quartered with a ramrod Irish New York police sergeant, Tom O'Meara, in a houseful of daughters.

O'Meara is no IRA boyo. He's so square you could shoot pool on his forehead. This is Harrison Ford, in someone's idea of a cop so liberal he gets upset when a partner nails a guy who's just shot at him! To him, Frankie -- now called Rory -- is the son he never had, a pool-shooting, beer-drinking pal with whom he can share mild masculine pleasures denied him by the girly-milieu of his family. He has no idea Frankie's most passionate masculine pleasure is blowing Special Air Service troopies out of their boots.

The movie means to contrast the fluid morality of guerrilla warfare -- viewed, somehow, as cosmopolitan -- with the clumsy, one-dimensional morality of this police sergeant, who seems to have missed the fact that it hasn't been 1953 in some time. The cop -- a sergeant in the New York police force, after all -- is preposterously viewed as an innocent! Hadn't any of these writers watched "NYPD Blue"? But such an ambition turns entirely on the chemistry between the two men, of which this movie has none.

Emblems of different Hollywood generations, Ford and Pitt just look at each other like members of different species. Centuries and DNA seem to separate them. The script, written by David Aaron Cohen & Vincent Patrick and Kevin Jarre (the ampersand connotes a team, brought in after Jarre, who cooked up the original story), demands that they "feel things" toward each other. One can watch them going manfully through the motions out of sheer noblesse oblige, but there seems to be no genuine emotion. Neither has technique enough as an actor to suggest a complexity of feeling, a mesh of contradicting impulses.

I'm thinking that possibly the earnest and polite Alan J. Pakula -- "Sophie's Choice," "Presumed Innocent" and other safe, tasteful epics -- wasn't quite the chap to run this mission. He's no borstal boy: He has the refined voice of a man who's read too many New Yorker think pieces and sipped too many glasses of fine Chablis. He can't really capture the raw heat of urban violence and the urge toward action of alpha male guerrillas, crooks and cops. I don't think he understands the hatred that drives the endless killings in Northern Ireland. Somehow they seem merely untidy to him.

The violence he directs is strictly routine, from an early firefight in a Belfast safe house to a final confrontation on a fishing boat. There are no new moves, angles or details here. A movie like this really has to make you believe you're in the caldron. When it resorts to lame gags like the one where the movie star dives to the cement, does a graceful roll, picks up a discarded snub nose and shoots two bad guys in one fluid motion, you know no whiff of reality has been allowed to intrude.

Worse, you can imagine that a dozen grips have spent hours on their hands and knees plucking the grit and glass shards from the ground so Brad won't hurt himself.

In fact, a movie like "The Devil's Own" is in some sense a far greater failure than a complete absurdity like "The Last Action Hero" because it makes it so hard for the next so-called thinking man's thriller to get off the ground. Though it's not awful, it's so flat and uninspired it has no real reason to exist. All that talent and money gone to waste.

'The Devil's Own'

Starring Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt

Directed by Alan J. Pakula

Released by Columbia

Rated R (violence and profanity)

Sun score: **

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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