Crime Thriller Theatre 3000 anyone?
jammer | Laramie, Wyoming United States | 12/29/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The screen credits bill this 1990 TV flick (94-minutes, 4x3 aspect) as a crime/thriller based on Barbara Paul's marginally interesting but seriously flawed 1985 novel "Kill Fee." To Ms. Paul's credit, the book's plotting has an interestingly original idea with a credible climax, though not as imaginative as it might have been. But a good novel requires more than plot: Here the writing is stiff; there is no ambiance, and the cardboard cutout characters resist any prospective reader empathy. This reviewer only read the novel in the interests of this review; otherwise it is not recommended.
The basic plot of this flick and the novel is a character named Alex Brandt (played by William Devane; "Pluto" in the book) who runs a murder-for-$100,000 scheme. Using a notepad plus high-tech, surreptitious, and highly portable recording equipment, Alex trolls for prospective "clients" in public areas. He eavesdrops on and records snatches of conversation between parties with considerable financial resources who hate each other's guts and have threatening disagreements in such areas as adverse business takeovers and spousal abuse. Retreating to his hidden, reinforced bunker, Alex uses computers and the internet to unscramble the raw data, build detailed personal profiles, and identify prospective targets. Assessing relative risks and financial resources, victims are chosen, assassinated, and the beneficiaries billed $100,000 for the "service" in that order.
In the book, Pluto does his research using more modest tools in his non-fortified apartment: a cork-board for newspaper clippings, various notes, and other relatively low-tech equipment. Pluto also determines prospective clients through researching other than public conversations. Rather than simply upgrading the book's technology and embellishing the characterizations so lacking in the original, which would have made a far more interesting movie, the producers kept only the basic idea and threw everything else away:
TO AVOID SPOILERS SKIP NEXT PARAGRAPH!
Aficionados of that book beware: Paul focused the novel on (saintly-pure) protagonist Police Lieutenant James Murtaugh and sets the action entirely in New York City: Murtaugh's superior, Captain Anspacher is thoroughly corrupted by the mob, feels (with good reason) threatened by Murtaugh's various investigations, and tries to get Murtaugh surreptitiously removed from the force. Murtaugh finds out and launches his own counter-investigation. This conflict forms the basis of the bond with Pluto, leading directly into the climactic developments: Pluto, sensing that Murtaugh is starting to close in on his activities, takes the opportunity to have Murtaugh as a "client" by assassinating Anspacher. He then submits his 'bill" to Murtaugh, the price being to foul-up the investigation. The flick scraps all this and substitutes an (off-screen) adulterous and out-of-control affair Murtaugh has in Chicago, unbeknownst to his wife. Alex finds out and assassinates the offending adulteress (off-screen) in exchange for Murtaugh's fouling up the investigation. Murtaugh drops his Chicago investigations and flees to Portland, where the flick begins as Alex has relocated him, leading to the flick's predictable shootout.
Thus, Murtaugh's relationship to his new Portland colleagues bears no resemblance to the book, being replaced with a few petty and stupid rivalries. The many anecdotal scenes showing how Pluto operates are scrapped and replaced with several inferior substitutes. In the book, beneficiaries pay to avoid truly nasty reprisals (demonstrated in one case) because Pluto takes great pains to insure assassinations occur only when the clients have cast-iron alibis, even so informing his clients on their bills! None of this is in the flick: It is largely the prospect of becoming prime police suspects, by Alex telling the police he was hired as a hit-man if necessary, which motivates the beneficiaries to keep their dealings with Alex private. These kinds of stupidities permeate the flick.
Having never watched Dallas, this reviewer finds Patrick Duffy's performance as the protagonist Murtaugh uncompelling. As for the other supporting "actors", the less said the better. The principal star here is Devane who is front and center throughout. Despite the plot absurdities, his credible performance and the technology he uses are the sole positives. But even Devane's Alex is ultimately ruined by the incompetent plot revisions, which force his characterization to evolve from one of highly-intelligent, cold-blooded rationality (as in the book throughout) into that of a psychopathic nut-case.
The DVD color picture and sound are fine. This reviewer's DVD had a one-second picture glitch at 31:25, repeatable on another system, but otherwise presenting no real interference. For Devane completists only.