Ben Affleck finally gets comfortable in an action role.
By MILAN PAURICH
For a movie in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance, "The Sum of All Fears" isn't terribly exciting. While intelligent, skillfully crafted, and graced with terrific performances by a uniformly strong cast, "Fears" just doesn't cut it as must-see entertainment.
The latest of best-selling author Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan adventures to make it to the screen, "Fears" recasts the Ryan role for the third time in four films. Ben Affleck ably steps in to fill in the shoes formerly worn by Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin, and this is the first time Affleck has seemed comfortable playing an action hero.
Affleck's Ryan is a lowly CIA analyst recruited to do some field work by agency director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) when a potential global catastrophe arises. While I still prefer Affleck in roles that test his mettle as an actor (e.g., the recent "Changing Lanes") rather than his brawn, he's far more credible wielding a gun here than he was in the junky "Reindeer Games."
One of the film's biggest problems is the sheer volume of exposition we're forced to wade through before the boom-boom stuff arrives.
Director Phil Alden Robinson (who helmed the classic dugout fantasy "Field of Dreams") practically gives us whiplash as we circumnavigate the globe, supplying useful on-screen captions ("Syria," "Moscow," etc.) to identify our latest port of call. Last fall's "Spy Games" with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt did a much better job of balancing foreign policy speeches with macho derring-do.
From what I was able to deduce, a weaselly South African arms dealer (Colm Feore) sells nuclear weapons to Nazi-sympathizing German industrialist Richard Dressler (Alan Bates), thereby triggering a Fail Safe scenario that threatens to destroy millions of lives. The ruthless Dressler is scheming to pit the United States against the Soviets in an atomic war so that he can come in and be a savior to the huddled masses after the damage is done.
Far more entertaining than the cloak-and-dagger stuff is a subplot about Ryan's surgical resident girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan), who thinks her new beau is really a "historian." What's the matter? Can't CIA operatives get dates anymore without fibbing about their line of work?
What ultimately holds your attention more than the plot -- which is both too complicated logistically and too politically naive -- is the combined efforts of a superb corps of actors.
Besides Affleck and the dependably solid Freeman, James Cromwell does a nice job as the conflicted U.S. president, Bates glowers malevolently as Dressler, and Liev Schreiber displays a welcome light touch as Ryan's sleuthing partner. As a sign of this movie's acting bench-strength, the throwaway roles of Secretary of State and Defense Secretary are handled by Ron Rifkin and Philip Baker Hall.
Here's one "Sum" that isn't as great as its parts.