Sum of All Fears, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 06/13/02 05:53:29

"Big budget action without the vomitous aftertaste!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The Sum of all Fears looked great as a trailer, but then so did Independence Day. So did Godzilla. So did U-571. Unlike those other three, The Sum of all Fears has merit. It has believable action. It has humor. It has acting. It doesn't treat the film fan like a child with a cleft palette. And that makes it a movie well worth seeing, especially if you've always wanted to see Baltimore reduced to six feet of dust - and who can honestly say they haven't harbored that feeling?

Jack Ryan is a humble media analyst for the gub'ment. He watches footage of Russian government officials and tries to uncover clues as to information that they might be hiding - who's doing who, who's about to fall off the perch, who's likely to want to blow up the Vatican. So when the big Russki dies and is replaced by an unknown quantity, the feds want to know who this new guy is, what he's likely to do differently and whether they should be afraid. Luckily for Ben Affleck's career, Mr Ryan had previously written a paper on Mr Unknownski, which thrusts him up into the middle levels of the intelligence world in an instant.

Cue problems with Senor Vodka keeping control of his armed forces, a problem with some missing nuclear scientists and a plot by nazis (don't you just HATE nazis!) to cause Russia and the USA to launch nukes at each other by blowing up Baltimore.

Now, it might be best to let suspension of disbelief take over here for a while, as anyone who has visited Baltimore knows it was nuked a long time ago, but let's pretend Baltimore isn't a hole in the ground and just run with it.

Affleck: action hero. Discuss.

Well, he's a little gay. I mean, not to say Affleck likes getting his rogering stick touched by the local priest or anything, but there's something a little prissy about Affleck these days that there never used to be. Maybe it's the lack of recreational blackjack, but the dude doesn't quite seem to be the same hardnose that he was in such breathtaking cinema as Bounce, Boiler Room and Armageddon. In Changing Lanes, the prissy side of Affleck was perfect. As Jack Ryan, world-traveled arse-kicker, it's all a little too Schumacher-esque.

Not to say that Affleck is woeful. He's not. But I have fans too, and I need to make fun of somebody or my faithful readers will start reading that Angry Jew fellow, so out of a good film that's well worth the money, I choose Affleck as my target du jour.

There were other possibilities for targeting. Morgan Freeman is most assuredly working for the money these days, and though his natural charisma and talent do make his character, Affleck's boss, one of the best in the film, it's still always a little unsettling to see him doing action movies and Ashley Judd thrillers when we all know there's another Shawshank in him.

James Cromwell, playing the President, didn't sell me at all, but that could be simply because he played it intelligent, and anyone with more than six months experience as a human being on the planet earth knows that intelligence and the United States President are hardly symbiotic terms.

From a directorial standpoint, I have no beefs with this project at all. Phil Alden Robinson is one of those guys that does good work, no matter what. Field of Dreams, Sneakers, these are not 'high suckage content' films (let's forget In The Mood and Rhinestone, he's done his time), and though he's been out of the loop for a while, he makes the best of his biggest opportunity to date.

Let it be known that the version of The Sum of All Fears that is in the theaters now wasn't the version that was originally planned - Affleck has admitted that changes were made post-9/11, and when watching the film you can see exactly where they are. The high point of the film (if you could call it that) is when a nuclear blast goes off in a US city. I'm not telling you any secrets here, the trailers (shock!) gives it away, but when you're watching the film and big boom hits, it's surprising how little of it you actually see. I mean, Armageddon slammed NYC buildings with giant rocks and the effects were the highpoint of an otherwise ridiculously awful film, but in Sum of All Fears the effects are very very slim, when it comes to anything that might remind anyone in North America of the day the Towers went boom.

Maybe that's good, in your opinion. In mine, it's weak. We know it's a movie, we're not going to run into the street and hide in the subway in case it happens, just show the damn movie and leave the psychological protection for pyschologists.

So bottom line, is Sum of All Fears worth the (inflated) price of admission? Absolutely. In fact, if you can do a Sum of All Fears/Changing Lanes double feature, you could do a lot worse for a day of cinematic entertainment.

Does it have plotholes? Oh yeah.

Will it change the world? No more so than Juwanna Mann will.

But it's a good, understated, under-ridiculous, well put together thinking man's action movie, based on a solid book and put together by an underrated director. It won't win any Oscars, but if they'd thrown in a retard or two, or had Halle Berry take her shirt off, perhaps they might have come close...

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