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Midnight Man
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Puerile Political Thriller"
2 stars

If you weren't a fan of the original, "On Dangerous Ground", chances are this sequel won't be of much comfort.

The made-for-cable-TV Midnight Man isn't thrilling or swiftly enough paced to generate much in the way of excitement, and with a rather sodden hero at its center, it's not terribly interesting, either. It's a sequel to On Dangerous Ground, where Rob Lowe played Sean Dillon, an ex-IRA hit man forced to work with British intelligence. Dillon may be Irish, but he sounded as American as Lowe's always sounded, and that's the case here. In fact, if one hasn't seen the original, one would be inclined to think that Dillon is American, since nothing of his IRA past is particularly stated here. Dillon is now happily domesticated with a beautiful Chinese woman, but, wouldn't you know, he's summoned to help stop what is believed to be the assassination of the British ambassador. As it turns out, this is a facade, for the real target is someone much higher up, and it's a hit that will, according to the mastermind, shake the country to its knees. The man hired to carry out the hit is John Engel, who's a past comrade of Dillon's; Dillon knows how he thinks, and he tries to use doppelganger recognition to try to anticipate his next moves. So we have the ingredients for a potentially nail-biting entertainment, but the screenplay is terribly episodic and the direction lumbering, as was also the case in Ground. Suffice to say, a merry-go-round would elicit more genuine excitement.

The proceedings are based on a novel by renowned novelist Jack Higgins, and it's second-rate Higgins, to say the least, with some of it (a gangster doubling as a mortician; the hit man's growing infatuation with someone's handicapped daughter) blatant lifts from Higgins' own A Prayer for the Dying. The plot points don't satisfyingly snap together, there's a subplot involving an informant in the brigadier's office that's predictably resolved, and while the hit man is etched as a human being rather than a human monster, he lacks any semblance of true menace. Everything is threadbare, and director Lawrence Gordon-Clark, who comes strictly from a television background, isn't dazzling enough a technician to give the material any oomph -- we should be nerve-jangled right before Engel attempts to strike during the finale; instead, we're nonplussed because Gordon-Clark hasn't a clue as to how to adequately turn the screws. So with mediocre handling and an uninteresting villain, all the film has to fall back on is its hero, and while Lowe admirably stays in character and gives a concentrated performance, Dillon lacks the interesting dramatic underpinnings to sustain much in the way of internal tension. Midnight Man is nothing more than a highly-derivative The Day of the Jackal, and though it's not painful to sit through, it's so by-the-numbers and short on pizazz you might as well be watching an industrial-training video in light of all the visual drabness and rote dialogue. Lowe's done better, and so can the viewer by picking up a novel rather than sitting through this maladroit failure.

For those longing to see Lowe in dyed-black hair, hey, be my guess. But I think he looks better with his natural color, anyway.

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originally posted: 07/10/06 07:03:31
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