Lopez plays Slim, a waitress in an L.A. diner whom life has not served well. When rich, handsome Mitch (Campbell) walks into the diner and her life, Slim seems destined for the security and happiness that have eluded her all her young life. Slim and Mitch enjoy a perfect, passionate marriage until, several years after the birth of adorable Grace (Allen), Mitch abruptly begins mistaking his wife for a punching bag. Slim grabs Grace and flees. With the help of wiretaps, homicidal thugs, and Nicholas Kazan's implausible script, Mitch tracks her down wherever she goes, be it Seattle, Michigan, or San Francisco.
Only two men in the entire film are particularly sympathetic. One is Phil (Maher), the hard-working immigrant owner of the diner where Mitch meets Slim. Calling himself her "substitute father," Phil risks his life to rescue Slim from her brutal husband. An exception to the cinematic stereotype of deceitful, savage Arabs, Phil arranges refuge for Slim among fellow Middle Eastern immigrants in Michigan.
The other exception to the film's depiction of men as misogynist monsters is Joe (Futterman), a former boyfriend who is still in love with Slim. Though sweet and decent, Joe admits to anyone who asks that he is not especially good in bed. "You're not that bad," says Slim, offering faint praise that explains why she chose instead to marry the super-stud Mitch.
"I am and always will be a person who gets what he wants," proclaims Mitch. When he wants a house, he simply walks up to its puzzled owner and makes him an offer he cannot refuse. When he wants Slim, he arranges an insidious scheme to win her affections. Mitch's determination to maintain control over his wife eventually comes into conflict with Slim's decision that she has had enough. She manages to escape, but we know that a rematch is inevitable. A few weeks of martial arts prove enough to enable Slim to wreak revenge on her conjugal tormentor. "Aren't you a man?" she taunts Mitch, when she eventually gets to whip him. In a movie world where all men are created evil, a good man is indeed hard to find. — Steven G. Kellman
The Sum of All Fears
"Gripping new spin on old series"
Dir. Phil Alden Robinson; writ. Tom Clancy (novel), Paul Attanasio, Daniel Pyne; feat. Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Philip Baker Hall (PG-13)
Long-running film franchises can run into problems when the lead actor decides he's had enough. It's always a challenge for viewers to accept a replacement actor playing a character they already know — please refer to Moore, Roger, or Clooney, George (although Clooney's Batman flopped for other reasons). In Sum, the filmmakers handle Harrison Ford's departure from Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series by re-imagining the character; instead of being at the top of his field as the 21st century begins, Ryan is a fresh-faced hotshot right out of school.
While Ben Affleck's performance isn't as nuanced as in his recent Changing Lanes, he wears the Ryan mantle well; he's more smart-ass than Ford was, more believable in physical action than Alec Baldwin. And the plot he faces here certainly has its moments, playing on some fears (terrorism, the possibility that unknown enemies may manipulate America's anger for their own means) that are more timely than the producers knew when they began production.
Since it is shown in the film's trailers, there is no point hiding the fact that a nuclear weapon is used midway through the film, right here in the heartland. In recent memory, mass destruction has never been conveyed this effectively, even if the ensuing scenes of search and rescue feel a bit implausible. The film is more gripping before the bomb, as Ryan is adjusting to his new job and trying to understand a complex political landscape, than it is afterwards, as he races against time to stop politicians from blowing the world up. But the movie delivers the kind of thrills we want from Clancy stories, and even has small unexpected pleasures, like Liev Schreiber's John Clark, a dark-hearted good guy who is having a bout of conscience trouble. If the public turns out not to buy Affleck as Jack Ryan, consider this an early vote for a John Clark spin-off film. — John DeFore
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