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by Jack Sommersby

"Arid, Asinine So-Called Thriller"
1 stars

Even on an demanding level this lackluster motion picture fails on almost all counts.

Aside from Kris Kristofferson's dependable solidity and some occasionally sharp dialogue, the crime picture Flashpoint is a definite lost cause. Sloppily plotted, inadequately directed, it takes way too long for the plot to finally kick in, and when it does its complete lack of immediacy leaves you longing for the closing credits to hurry up and get here. One doesn't necessarily need wall-to-wall action to be entertained, but there do need to be interesting characters and decent plot turns to sustain interest, which are in very short supply in this bare-bones screenplay. For a while it's harmless stuff that doesn't push things; it's only past the half-hour mark where you feel the moviemakers are treading water, pussyfooting around because of the dire contextual value. (It plays out like the ultimate big-screen short story.) Kristofferson and Treat Williams play a couple of Border Patrol officers based in Texas who experience both good and bad luck the very same day: a Washington, D.C. bigwig has arrived to order them to plant geosensors in the desert area to detect the movement of Mexican illegals that will be monitored by a computer back at base, which the officers fear will result in job losses; a few hours later, they stumble upon a buried jeep with a lone human skeleton, a wooden case containing an old bolt-action rifle, and a satchel containing eight-hundred-thousand dollars. Lowly paid to do a hopeless job, they aim to take the money and head down to Mexico but do a little checking on the money and find the bills had stopped being printed in 1963; and some library research shows some bank heists occurred in that time period, but none of them adding up to the huge amount they've found. Pretty soon they're up to their necks in duplicitous government agents and double crosses, but very little of these are involving due to the haphazard writing that doesn't bother to actually develop the plot -- there's nothing tying any of the mysterious goings-on together aside from some ultra-brief explanations that muddle rather than clarify. And a dreary subplot is introduced in the form of two good-hearted women who the heroes happen while making their rounds: their car has broken down, and later that night they're wined and dined and eventually bedded down; and to pad out the material even more, the women, of course, come back for more. And they just happen to work as telephone operators so the heroes can use them to track down two phone numbers found on a piece of paper in the jeep, which, if it wasn't for this, the movie wouldn't have much of a second act in light of the trouble this winds up causing for the non-villainous characters. (Do female roles in movies like this always have to be this insultingly vacuous?)

Flashpoint is a series of missed opportunities, with a great deal of the blame going to the screenwriting team of Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler, who wrote the engaging horror movie Murder by Phone but were also responsible for the appalling Clint Eastwood vehicle The Gauntlet. It's not just that plausibility is stretched to the breaking point (even escapist entertainment needs to have some semblances of rootedness so we can halfway buy into what's being dished out), but right when the story starts to take hold and promises a through-line of logical progression we're given more scenes introducing other elements that aren't satisfyingly followed through on, either. (At a brief ninety-minute running time, the movie is like a substance-deprived high-school senior term paper that's all headings and subheadings but no genuine substance.) Added to which, in a major miscalculation, in a central scene at the halfway mark, we're tipped off to a crucial character's corruptness that would have been better left unveiled for at least thirty more minutes; and a few scenes later, in what has so far been a story seen from the view of the heroes, we see a murder committed by an unseen someone before the heroes discover the corpse, which temporarily throws the narrative out of whack and kills the element of surprise. But even taking into account the script's innate stupidity, the handling of it by debuting director William Tannen leaves quite a lot to be desired. With a nondescript compositional sense, Tannen doesn't give the movie much of a visual life (the screenplay gains very little from cinematic treatment), and the few action scenes on display are unbelievably clunky with little regard for lucid spatial logistics (they don't take place in the most challenging of locales, mostly flat desert terrain, so the jejune juxtaposing is pretty inexcusable). It would've been a considerable help if Sam Peckinpah had shown up on the set and taken charge. There is a fine scene where a government agent explains that drugs and illegal aliens are necessary for law-enforcement job security ("If they didn't exist, we'd manufacture them"), and for a wee bit we feel like we're at a real movie, but for every few minutes like this we're given trite ones, like with Tess Harper, playing the love interest with unbearable doe-eyed sincerity, getting all gooey-sentimental and reminding us of how disjointed the overall construction is. (And I won't dwell on the offensiveness of dragging in the Kennedy assassination for the sole sake of a cheap plot mechanic.) Yes, there's Kristofferson around with his usual understated confidence managing to give some semblances of verity to the proceedings, but, with the deck constantly stacked against him, he'd have been better off partaking in something far more substantial. Like a Florida dinner theatre production.

Want a better movie in the same setting, try Steve Carver's "Lone Wolf McQuade" (with Chuck Norris) or Tony Richardson's "The Border" (with Jack Nicholson).

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originally posted: 07/30/12 00:25:08
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  31-Aug-1984 (R)



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