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  Package, The Handle with care
Year: 1989
Director: Andrew Davis
Stars: Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, Tommy Lee Jones, John Heard, Dennis Franz, Pam Grier, Kevin Crowley, Ron Dean, Nathan Davis, Chelcie Ross, Joe Greco, Ike Pappas, Marco St. John
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: After fending off an ostensible terrorist attack on nuclear disarmament talks between Russia and the United States in West Germany, Sergeant Johnny Gallagher (Gene Hackman) is tasked with escorting a troublesome soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) to his court martial hearing back home. En route to the States, Gallagher is knocked out by a group of men who enable Henke to escape. Hoping to track down the escapee, he enlists help from his friends including his ex-wife only to uncover a deadly conspiracy involving high-ranking army officials from both Russia and the US.

As the Cold War drew to a close in the late Eighties and early Nineties, a handful of Hollywood thrillers toyed with the notion that right-wing agitators on both sides of the Iron Curtain were out to prolong hostilities or even spark a nuclear war in the service of either financial gain or insane ideological reasons. Here, a corrupt special forces colonel (John Heard) dupes simple-minded soldier Walter Henke (Kevin Crowley) into infiltrating a radical right-wing group purely for the purpose of acquiring a patsy as part of an assassination attempt. Screenwriter John Bishop hits on some promising subject matter but the treatment is simply efficient rather than inspired. John Frankenheimer did this sort of thing so much better back in the Sixties with The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964).

Nevertheless, The Package proved an important stepping stone for Andrew Davis from his early Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal vehicles towards more ambitious action films like The Fugitive (1993) and his unexpected Disney masterpiece Holes (2003) although he still had the guilty pleasure that is Under Siege (1992) in his future. As an aspiring cinematographer Davis earned the respect of his peers by leading the class-action suit that forced the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to open its doors to young film technicians. He went on to shoot such exploitation classics as Private Parts (1972), The Slams (1973) and Angel (1984) before making his directorial debut with the wacked-out musical Stony Island (1980) though it was underrated slasher movie The Final Terror (1983) that made his name. Davis did a solid job here crafting muscular yet restrained action sequences bouyed by a robust score from James Newton Howard but after a strong start The Package inexplicably runs out of steam. It settles into a sedate pace entangled with Gallagher’s attempt to patch up his failed marriage to Eileen (Joanna Cassidy), interwoven with the labyrinthine conspiracy plot.

The main point of interest is the almost affectionate bond between hero and antagonist which goes sadly undeveloped. At one point he even serves the captive Gallagher milk and cookies. Gene Hackman essays an affable, salt of the earth type whose grunt’s eye view permits him a more sober perspective on the Cold War conflict. The role fits this great actor like a glove, even if it does not stretch him that much though he sparks well off the live wire good ol’ boy played by Tommy Lee Jones in the first of several outings with Davis culminating in his Oscar-winning turn in The Fugitive. Dennis Franz also appears in one of his many, many gruff policeman roles that eventually led to his Emmy-winning stint on NYPD Blue but the film scandalously wastes Pam Grier in a disposable role any actress could have played. It’s like Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) never happened. Davis stages a suitably nail-biting finale with Gallagher racing to prevent global catastrophe though one has to look at history rather than the hastily contrived and ambiguous wrap-up for satisfying answers.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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