This wee film, shot entirely within the confines of a small diner (presumably) in Aztec, Colorado, and a surprisingly entertaining one. Despite all our relaxed attitude about the Cold War relative to the 1980’s, I think the general threat of nuclear terrorism still lurks within us when we hear the repeating tape loop at the airport regarding safety. Kevin Pollack, after so offending us in the otherwise delightful The Whole Nine Yards, had to do some serious work to get me to like him as much as I did by the end of the movie. He’s the president, he is actually a promoted Vice President in an unspecified but post-2007 near future (in which little progress was made reducing bigotry or terrorism). This non-elected president detail may seem just like screenplay color, but actually most of the things that seem included just for interest work out to be pretty important.
I would have liked to make this a triple feature with WarGames and The Day After – the message is the same, but the whole (oh, I have to say it) gestalt of the situation is quite different. For example, now, in this global village and all that stuff, something like the Red Scare, where an entire continent of people had to be assumed to have horns and fangs and red eyes, can never happen. Now we can be seduced into buying a super villain, as Saddam Hussein was painted as, but we can’t really drop our whole “I know they love their children too” attitude any more. This is a good thing. But as the James Bond franchise knows, it makes for some weak drama. The exciting thing about Deterrence is that we are the big scary bad guy who is acting irrationally – and yet the conclusion explains everything. It’s satisfying like sushi is satisfying – you don’t really know how you got so much food shoveled into your mouth, but suddenly you are full and happy and glad you went to the trouble.
The supporting cast is small, the “extras” smaller. Some interesting moments suddenly shine like a mirror tilted suddenly on the car in front of you, and others are dropped when they most seem to be going someplace. My companion and I imagined all kinds of alternate scenarios that were never used, but we got an equal number of surprises. Since we both see unnerving amounts of movies, I guess we expected the predictable, and didn’t get it. Hooray for everybody!
Pollack’s character, President Emerson, is described by another as “not very presidential,” i.e. he is very Vice Presidential. I have said the same thing about Vices that became Big Cheeses, and I know what they mean. Pollack is a supporting guy, a character actor, a villain, a sidekick – it works perfectly to set up his teetering position of credibility. Oh, did I mention it’s election night too? That’s a bit much but at least we don’t follow the polls throughout the evening, watching his popularity rise and fall with every move he makes. The idea is that he might have to wage international war from this little diner, snowed in and totally beyond rescue. Pretty cool idea, really. The high tech gadgets are cool, the alarming number of emergency situations his team is prepared for, and so forth. It’s interesting, and seriously, quite tense. I wouldn’t have thought it. For the most part (I won’t say completely) it avoids the beaten path and that is probably the best thing about it. And it’s got a little thing to say about war as well. A BIG little thing – making this movie not so wee after all.
MPAA Rating R for language and violence.
Release date 3/10/00 NY/LA
Time in minutes 101
Director Rod Lurie
Studio Paramount Classics