- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

"The Sum of All Fears" involves the detonation of a low-grade nuclear bomb by terrorists at a Baltimore football game. The defects of the movie, based on Tom Clancy's apocalyptic thriller of 1991, may be protected to some extent by the urgency associated with genuine threats facing the country.
Recent congressional testimony by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that weapons of mass destruction could be acquired eventually by adversaries who wouldn't hesitate to use them may have bestowed a timely marketing advantage on the film.
The topical opportunism of "All Fears" would be easier to defend if fictional calamity had been used to depict a mosaic of human suffering and gallantry that was both informative and stirring. The movie doesn't even come close, in part because it reflects the thinking that prevailed in movie circles a year ago. The next Clancy adaptation may reveal how seriously Hollywood views the current crisis.
Screenwriters Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne fob off rusty homework as an "update" of the book's time frame. No one who tinkered with "All Fears" seems to have heard of Islamic terrorists, despite a certain trail of enmity during the 1990s.
The most reviled conspirator in "All Fears" is a neo-Nazi industrialist of German origin named Richard Dressler, played by Alan Bates. He appears to control or bankroll a Middle European cabal that aims to lure the United States and the Soviet Union, er, the Russian Federation, into a war of reprisals that will leave the globe up for grabs. According to Dressler, the survivors will be so helpless that "zey vill seek a new vay." Meaning his vay.
President Fowler, played by James Cromwell, leads the United States, and President Nemerov (Ciaran Hinds) takes the reins in Russia when his predecessor suddenly dies. An apparent slaughter by Russians occurs in the Chechen capital, Grozny, which evidently has become an American protectorate.
Poor Nemerov has no idea how such an attack was authorized or executed, but he's loath to admit his humiliating ignorance to the Yanks. So he continues to shilly-shally destructively during a subsequent Russian raid on an American carrier, which prompts a retaliatory raid on a Russian air base. Etc., etc., etc. Meanwhile, the minions of Dressler and his cronies are sneaking a "dirty" nuclear device into the United States.
The inevitability of this process of escalation and destruction is never persuasive, nor is the trust placed in the intuition and chasing-about of Ben Affleck as a new incarnation of Mr. Clancy's pre-eminent fictional hero, Jack Ryan. Destined for the presidency in Mr. Clancy's master plan, Ryan began movie life with Alec Baldwin in "The Hunt for Red October" and then matured with Harrison Ford in the film versions of "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger." Those were all superior movies to "All Fears," by the way.
A young CIA analyst again, the fountain-of-youth Ryan attracts agency director William Cabot, played by Morgan Freeman. Like the original Ryan, the Affleck reprise has made a study of a particular Russian, the shaky new president. Cabot finds the lad indispensable during a get-acquainted trip to Moscow and then for subsequent missions at home and abroad. The ones abroad actually look fine in the hands of Liev Schreiber, an unconventional but effective choice as a deadly, seasoned operative named John Clark. A genuinely reassuring movie about the American spy community would have left all crises in the hands of Mr. Freeman and Mr. Schreiber.
The purloined nuclear weapon comes not from the porous Soviet arsenal we have been hearing so much about, but from an Israeli bomber that crash-landed in the desert during the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Better yet, the plutonium in the warhead was supplied by the United States. This package makes it possible to shift strategic blame in an Israeli-American direction.
Director Phil Alden Robinson appears to have far too many balls to juggle from one sequence to the next. Not that the obsolete geopolitics of "All Fears" would make it easy on anyone trying to sustain a plausible system of illusion, but Mr. Robinson and his colleagues are caught in a time warp that seems unforgiving.
If it helps to imagine that the country's security depends on the nimble mind and flying feet of Ben Affleck, though, have yourself a ball.

**
TITLE: "The Sum of All Fears"
RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity, sexual interludes and graphic violence, including simulations of the devastation caused by a nuclear device that explodes in Baltimore)
CREDITS: Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Screenplay by Paul Attanasio and Daniel Pyne, based on the novel by Tom Clancy. Cinematography by John Lindley.
RUNNING TIME: Two hours
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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