Imagine the fate of Monica Lewinsky without the lucrative book and TV deals.
That's what labor attorney Robert Dean (Will Smith from Men in Black) suffers in Enemy of the State. Robert's life is already tense. He's handling a case involving some vindictive mobsters who want him dead. After a mysterious break-in at his apartment, Robert wishes his only worry was the mob.
Without knowing it, Robert has stumbled across a murder conspiracy involving crooked, power-hungry National Security Agency bureaucrats (led by an icy Jon Voight). Big Brother and several of his equally malevolent siblings are not only watching Robert, they're ruining his life. When he reads the morning papers, he finds his past indiscretions on the front page along with allegations of crooked deals he never made. Within minutes, he loses his job, his bank accounts are frozen and his wife (Regina King) threatens divorce. Oh yeah, and armed thugs are chasing him. Robert's only ally is a shady private eye (Gene Hackman) who likes him as much as the mobsters do.
The loss of privacy in contemporary life is a timeworn but fertile premise for a film. That may explain why Enemy of the State frequently works even though it shouldn't. Writer David Marconi and director Tony Scott (Top Gun, Crimson Tide) almost wreck the movie by throwing in ridiculous (if well-staged) explosions, shootouts and car chases. The central theme is scary on its own. As a result, the movie loses some of its potency because the credibility of the danger wanes. While Hackman is typically fine, his presence is disappointing. He rehashes the role he played in Francis Ford Coppola's much smarter and scarier The Conversation.
Scott and his cohorts aren't aiming to top George Orwell or make a two-hour commercial for the American Civil Liberties Union. To Scott's credit, the movie does have a consistently creepy atmosphere. Scott used to helm commercials, so he knows how to set moods and how to manipulate color. However, Smith is the reason Enemy of the State remains entertaining. The moonlighting rapper may not need to practice any Oscar speeches, but he has a genial presence and a gift for delivering wisecracks. Even when the dialogue isn't particularly funny, Smith can get a laugh.
Enemy of the State has its moments, but Scott will have to work extra hours to make Voight as scary as Kenneth Starr or Linda Tripp. (R) Rating: 6
Will Smith regrets his conversation with Linda Tripp in Enemy of the State.
© 1998 Touchstone Pictures, used by permission.