The Sum Of All Fears (12)

Review by Jack Foley

HOLLYWOOD continues to flirt with the issue of its nation’s defence capabilities by posing the question, ‘could terrorists actually detonate a weapon of mass destruction on United States soil?’

But the answer, while compelling at times, has somewhat been overtaken by real events, as the memory of September 11 lingers uncomfortably in the mind while watching The Sum Of All Fears, the latest Jack Ryan instalment.

Ben Affleck portrays the Ryan in question this time (the third actor to take on the role after Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford) and, to be fair, does a good job of creating a believable action hero, but the movie suffers from bad timing, arriving on UK shores less than a month before America prepares to mark the first anniversary of last year’s devastating terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

It is also a movie of two halves - the first being a lively, frequently entertaining race-against-time to find and locate the bomb, while the second is a tense, but highly improbable Mexican stand-off between the US and Russia which brings the world to the point of nuclear war.

Sandwiched in between is one of the most jaw-dropping sequences of the year - the detonation of said nuclear bomb in Baltimore; a moment so staggeringly powerful that you could virtually hear audiences gasping a collective sigh of disbelief.

It is during this moment (and the minutes afterwards), that The Sum of All truly terrifies, before giving way to the macho posturing of men in suits threatening to blast each other off the planet - last year’s Kevin Costner thriller, 13 Days, did it far better with fewer histrionics.

Worse still, the CIA does get to save the day and comfortably eliminate the enemy in a way that completely overlooks the current world situation - so while the hunt for America’s enemies continues in reality, on-screen they are ruthlessly tracked down and killed in the type of revenge sequence usually reserved for mobster movies.

The Sum of All Fears, therefore, also suffers from the Hollywood factor (that need for a happy ending), while refusing to credit its audience with too much intelligence (the ‘cigarettes can kill’ metaphor is strained beyond belief), which is a shame given the potential of its premise and cast (the likes of Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell and Liev Schrieber provide meaty support).

According to the CIA, at least 20 countries - nearly half of them in the Middle East and South Asia - already have or may be developing weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, it is a matter of public record that there were tens of thousands of them constructed and waiting on launch pads during the Cold War. To date, according to a published report, 164 transportable warheads remain unaccounted for.

Pitted against these statistics, and the fact that a weapon has fallen into the wrong pair of hands, is Affleck’s Ryan (looking younger, leaner and still courting his future wife), while the powers that be in the White House and the Kremlin play show and tell with their armouries.

As blockbusters go, Phil Alden Robinson’s movie - adapted from a screenplay by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne and based upon the Tom Clancy novel - is pure Hollywood hokum, ideally suited to the Friday night multiplex crowds. It’s big, brash, exciting in places, and occasionally thought-provoking.

But it strives too hard to have its cake and eat it, wanting to work both as a full-on mainstream blockbuster and an intelligent take on the current threat to world safety. On the first level, it succeeds, but on the second it merely comes across as dumb and very naïve.

Go in with the former in mind, and you are likely to have a blast; enter believing the latter, and you are likely to feel insulted. It is now up for you to decide.

RELATED STORIES: Click here to access an interview with the movie's stars, Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck...

RELATED LINKS: Click here for the official Jack Ryan site...