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Tuesday, 01 June 2004

Live Wire
New Line Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Pierce Brosnan, Ron Silver, Ben Cross, Lisa Eilbacher, Tony Plana, Al Waxman, Brent Jennings, Philip Baker Hall
release year: 1992
film rating: One and a half stars
sound/picture: Two stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Sean Connery had sort of a career before he became James Bond, appearing in a Tarzan film here, a Disney outing there. Pierce Brosnan seemed to be on firmer ground prior to his Bond years, what with a hit TV series, "Remington Steele" (but almost no movies, certainly none in a large role). But his star outings just prior to going into Bondage tended to be rather like this trifle, a handsomely-produced but utterly ordinary thriller. Although it's not terrible, watching "Live Wire" is much the same as watching 90 minutes of blank film. If he hadn't become James Bond, he probably would have continued on in this vein. Fortunately for all of us, but especially for Brosnan, he did take up the 007 mantle.
"Live Wire" is set in Washington, DC, and the wide screen (we didn't check the "full frame" versions on the same disc) makes full advantage of reasonably extensive location shooting. However, it's really a Canadian film, and is cast like one. Brosnan is the most significant star; intense character actor Ron Silver appears occasionally in a thankless role (the whole film is thankless, actually) which gives him few opportunities to strut his stuff. Love interest Lisa Eilbacher fares better, but Ben Cross, as principal villain (with the carefully contrived name of Mikhail Rashid, a little Russian, a little Arab), is given a role so confused and so thin that all he can do is grin or glare. (Which is pretty much the extent of Cross's acting abilities anyway.)

There's an opening title which has become uncomfortably ironic: it explains that just about every country in the world has been the target of terrorism, except the United States. "Until now," the note finishes ominously. But the movie that follows really has nothing to do at all with terrorism as we've come to know it. Terrorists are usually driven by religion, ethnicity or politics; the bad guys here are just crooks after ten million bucks. Despite Cross' Russian/Arabic name, he might as well have been Icelandic/French.

It's based on an interesting though preposterous premise. In the opening scene, one of Rashid's henchmen switches carafes of water in a restaurant. The senator who's the target downs some water; Cross, elsehwere in the restaurant, glances at his watch and ducks outside. A moment later, there's a fiery explosion, blowing out the windows of the restaurant and incinerating a passerby.

FBI bomb-disposal expert Danny O'Neill (Brosnan), tossing off wisecracks, investigates, but he and the scientific researchers at the Bureau are baffled: there's no sign of any explosive. Except that the senator exploded.

Danny has other problems: his little daughter recently drowned in the backyard swimming pool, and Danny and his wife Terry (Eilbacher) have become so estranged she's begun an affair with Senator Frank Traveres (Silver). Danny is very bitter, Terry hovers on the brink of apologetic, Traveres is a swine. His credibility is not enhanced by a haircut that makes him look like Moe Howard without bangs. It's less than no surprise to discover near the end that he's linked to Rashid. The film would have been more worthy had no link been established. And if they'd taken the time to indicate why Terry would have been attracted to him in the first place.

After another senator (Philip Baker Hall) is killed when his aide explodes (after drinking the sinister water), and we learn that all this is about a vote backed by three senators on an arms bill. Somehow each of them made big bucks, and Rashid wants his $10 million share for whatever it is he did. (We never know.) Now he's after the third senator, Traveres, but takes care of a henchman along the way.

He's acquired a strange formula from a scientist -- whom he stabs to death with a fountain pen -- for an explosive that looks exactly like water. When drunk, it's triggered by stomach (or any) acid, and detonates in a cloud of fire. We also learn, however, that it definitely isn't water, so why don't any of the targets notice a difference in taste?

This premise prompted director Christian Duguay to use lots of water imagery. It's okay in the impressive credits, but is wildly overused in the movie itself; for example, there's a cut from a swimming pool to a brimming chuckhole in a street. It gets completely soggy at the end, when a character is informed that his pregnant wife's "water just broke."

The explosive scenes are very well handled, with innocent bystanders going up like torches in several of the sequences. When a judge detonates in her own courtroom, windows bulge out like balloons, the glass melting and expanding from the heat. In these scenes, the sound effects are crisp and clear, but not very interesting; however, in the few gunfight scenes, the sound effects are excellent, loud, bright and full of impact. But these are the only areas in which the movie shows much imagination. It was not imaginative to include a bomb-disposal robot with a penchant for pinching Brosnan's ass.

Executive producer Bart Baker wrote the routine script, which provides very little in the line of characterization, and a great deal in the lines of stereotypes and cliches. The explosive water is an interesting sci-fi gimmick, but it never rises above that level. The handsome, well-photographed film (cameraman was Jeff Jur) is too familiar and too routine. But "Goldeneye" was waiting around the corner for Pierce Brosnan.

Apart from a trailer, the film has no extras, but does offer an unusual feature. It includes four different prints of the feature: rated and unrated "full screen" editions, and rated and unrated letterboxed editions. There's only one minute of running time difference between the rated and unrated versions, but New Line Home Entertainment should be thanked for offering this unusual choice. We watched the unrated letterboxed editions, and since we're such thoroughgoing professionals, also checked the hot bathtub sex scene between Brosnan and Eilbacher in the unrated version, learning that cuts in this sequence resulted in an R rating.

more details
sound format:
Dolby Digital stereo
special features: only extra is a trailer, but disc includes four versions of the film: widescreen rated and unrated, "full frame" rated and unrated
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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