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Bugging Out

 Enemy of the State isn't really a smart film, but it makes a concerted stab at pretending to be one, which counts as a massive step forward in the vacuum of thought known as Bruckheimer Films. Directed by Tony Scott from David Marconi's patchy but engagingly busy script (reportedly much doctored), the movie certainly covers its bases: it shrewdly zeroes in on au courant Truman Show surveillance fantasies, foams responsibly at the mouth about Fourth Amendment issues, respectfully references the definitive wiretap-paranoia pic The Conversation by casting Gene Hackman as a reclusive gizmo wiz, and competently goes through the foolproof Fugitive motions with the help of the new Harrison Ford, Will Smith.

Smith plays a hotshot D.C. lawyer whose life promptly falls apart when an old college buddy slips him a disk while being pursued to his death by mysterious men in suits. The film gathers momentum slowly, and is a little shapeless, but that somehow works to its advantage: it feels twistier and more unpredictable than it actually is.

Scott may be a hack, but he's no Michael Bay. He gets some mileage from sped-up, spliced-in surveillance footage, and the aerial satellite shots (the film's cautionary message is, don't look up) lend an extra charge to the rooftop action, though someone should really tell him that shooting at a 45-degree angle does nothing besides give the audience a stiff neck.

A conversation: Smith and Hackman in Enemy of the State
Linda R. Chen
A conversation: Smith and Hackman in Enemy of the State

Details

Enemy of the State
Directed by Tony Scott
Written by David Marconi
A Touchstone release
Opens November 20

Waking Ned Devine
Written and directed by Kirk Jones
A Fox Searchlight release
Opens November 20

Its subject matter is creepy and eminently exploitable, but Enemy of the State is too concerned with showing you a good time to tap into primal anxieties. It eventually ditches you-are-being-watched dread for safe escapist stuff like buildings blowing up (you have to wonder what someone like David Fincher might have brought to the film). Also, the bad guys are curiously nonthreatening. A waxy-looking Jon Voight plays a megalomaniacal but not especially sinister N.S.A. head, and the other government ops are even less villainous— a couple, in fact, are decidedly hipsterish (Scream's Jamie Kennedy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Seth Green, two appeallingly quirky young actors who aren't given much to do but are nonetheless fun to watch). The net result is fairly low-tension yet satisfyingly off-kilter. Put it down to some fluke combination of half-baked hackwork and conscious convention-bucking, and pray that Mr. Bruckheimer doesn't try to mangle it into a formula.

I wouldn't be surprised if there was a campaign afoot to get Waking Ned Devine banned in Ireland. Set against a painfully quaint backdrop of pig-farming, Guinness-swilling village idiocy, this cynical first feature by writer-director Kirk Jones (who's English) takes provincial whimsy to exasperating, borderline-offensive extremes. The subject of an inexplicably ferocious bidding war at Cannes, Waking Ned Devine has been anointed this year's Full Monty by marketing types, but that's a grossly misleading reference point. In fact, take away the brogues and the picturesque locales, and what you have is a particulary hoary Lemmon-Matthau vehicle.

About as substantial as a sitcom subplot, the movie hinges on a winning lottery ticket that belongs to one of the 52 inhabitants of remote Tully More. A couple of old codgers (Ian Bannen and David Kelly) take it upon themselves to sniff out the winner, who, it turns out, died of a heart attack upon hearing the good news. A predictably glitch-riddled scheme to keep the 6 million pound jackpot ensues. Jones uses this desperately thin material as launchpad for a merciless onslaught of stereotypical Oirishness, complete with wall-to-wall uileann pipes on the soundtrack and numerous teeth-grinding scenarios that are supposed to be comic simply because the characters involved are either Irish or old or naked or drunk or smelly or slow-witted or various combinations of the above. It's instructive that Waking Ned Devine is being so aggressively sold as a feel-good comedy; the "good" feeling in question is called condescension.

 
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