Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 06/27/01 16:29:13

"I would have called it 'The Apocalypse Diner'"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

In "Deterrence", the nuclear fate of the world is not decided in the oval office, or the pentagon, or some high-tech underground NORAD bunker. It is decided in a small Colorado diner, where the President and his chief aides are snowbound while out on the campaign trail.

I love movies like this, films that can take place in a single room for two hours and never feel tedious or claustrophobic. The mark of a truly kick-ass movie is one that can keep you on the edge of your seat without a single explosion, special effect, or other Hollywood crutch.

In the near future, Walter Emerson (Kevin Pollack) has become the de-facto President of the United States, after the demise of the commander in chief and the resignation of the previous vice-president. While out on the campaign trail in Colorado, he is suddenly stranded in a small diner by a wicked snowstorm, with only a small staff of Secret Service agents and advisors, as well as a news crew and a handful of civilians. Naturally, at what would be the worst possible time, the son of Saddam Hussein decides to continue his father's legacy by overrunning Kuwait and pushing onward toward the Saudi oil fields, while threatening to unleash chemical weapons within two hours. After considering his options, and realizing that the U.S. will not be able to mobilize conventional forces in time, Emerson essentially tells Iraq, "Back the fuck off, or we nuke Baghdad".

This is where the tension really begins to ramp up in "Deterrence", as a nuclear chess game is played out amid formica tables and padded vinyl booths. The beauty of this film is that it never really leaves the diner. We don't see a big gathering of generals ala "Doctor Strangelove", or nuke-laden B-52's in flight, and we don't need to. Most of the action is related verbally via satellite uplink, as the President and his aides converse with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with occasional cuts to broadcasts on a fictional news network interspliced with stock gulf war footage.

Although it occasionally feels like a cheap T.V. or made-for-cable movie, it remains surprisingly believable thanks to a good script and good acting. Pollack, who seems like the least likely candidate to play the President since Bill Pullman in "Independence Day", delivers a credible performance as the tough-as-nails Emerson who never blinks twice at the prospect of having to nuke a city of 12 million people for the greater good. His character is noble, yet disturbing in its uncompromising approach towards a crisis of biblical proportions. Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph also bring an appropriate dignity to their roles as at-odds aide de campes. To it's credit, the film doesn't pull many punches or deliver up a "Crimson Tide" type ending where disaster is completely averted. It really gets the message across that when you threaten someone with nukes, you'd better be ready to pull the trigger.

Though it is not a hundred percent convincing in relaying the tension that would accompany a crisis of this magnitude, it is nevertheless engrossing and never boring. The script, and its subject matter, could have been equally compelling if presented in a stage play or even a radio drama. This film is definitely a must for fans of films in the "Fail Safe" vein.

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