The Sum of All Fears (2002)
Cast: Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Alan Bates, Liev Schreiber, Bridget Moynihan, Philip Baker Hall
Screenplay: Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne (based on Tom Clancy's novel)
Grade: * * out of 5
Opens July 24, 2002 in Paris, France
Tom Clancy's CIA hero Jack Ryan is back in The Sum of All Fears. At least I think he's back. The last time we saw him, eight years ago in Clear and Present Danger, he was a seasoned vet of the clandestine agency, married, and as old and weathered as Harrison Ford. Now he's a mere researcher, just getting his feet wet in the CIA, single, and as fresh faced and callow as Ben Affleck. This is the fourth film in a series (The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin and Patriot Games with Ford were the others), but you might as well forget everything you know about this character from previous films. In the wake of Ford's departure, Paramount seems to be starting from scratch. Overlook that this is a sequel, and the only thing you should find confusing is the plot.
It is confusing. Like most spy thrillers, we're supposed to think the situation depicted is too complex for the average person to fully comprehend when, in fact, it's the screenwriters who are in over their heads and hope we're all too afraid of looking stupid by admitting their puzzle has us stumped. In short, a nuclear missile misplaced by the Israelis, then recovered by the Arabs, winds up in the hands of some neo-Nazis led by an evil industrialist (Alan Bates) who now threatens the world with a nuclear holocaust. The target: the annual Super Bowl.
I must say I don't feel too confident about this new Jack Ryan's ability to prevent Armageddon, not when Affleck holds my attention less than my popcorn, but fortunately he has help from the head of the CIA played by Morgan Freeman, probably the world's greatest non-Oscar winning actor. The bland Affleck couldn't ask for better support than that, and Freeman is backed up by James Cromwell as the U.S. president and Philip Baker Hall as the secretary of defense.
Unfortunately, even a team as fine as that can't quite redeem a movie that is, in the wake of 9/11, too disturbingly close to reality for "escapism." The bad guys in this movie back up their threats with action, and the devastation, the deaths of thousands of people, even if make believe, no longer seems "entertaining" after we witnessed the real thing on TV screens only months ago. Part of the appeal of such fictional horrors is in knowing that justice will prevail and the evildoers will be punished. But The Sum of All Fears dares to give us a happy ending, as if one is possible following the horrors they packed into the previous two hours.
But there's no point in getting all hot and bothered about a movie that is as insignificant as its predecessors. Like the last two Ryan films, there's a lot of cross-cutting from one location to another to emphasize the complexity of the plot and to distract us from its inconsistencies. And also like the last two films, when things aren't being blown up, it's kind of dull. It will probably make a fortune.
Brian W. Fairbanks
Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2002 Paris Woman Journal
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