[Warning: May Contain Spoilers]
Johnny Depp stars in this 1995 thriller directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Live, WarGames, Short Circuit). Depp plays Gene Watson, a public accountant and father to six year old Lynn (Courtney Chase) who is travelling with him to Los Angeles on unspecified business when the two are caught up in a conspiracy to assassinate the Governor of California.
Christopher Walken plays Mr. Smith, a bad-ass agent working for the Governor’s security detail. Smith and his partner Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia) kidnap Watson’s daughter and coerce Watson to assassinate the Governor within the next 90 minutes or they will kill his daughter.
With that improbable plot the clock is set in motion and for the next 90 minutes Watson tries to find a way out of his predicament while being dogged by Walken who is intent on making sure he follows through.
Walken does what he does best in these type of roles, chewing scenery and looking like he is about to snap. Depp plays the mild-mannered-straight-laced-working-father-type and while he manages to look meek and frightened for the most part, I found myself waiting for the transformation of his character that never came. I kept expecting a similar transition to what we saw in Dead Man, where William Blake grew to accept his role and embrace it.
When this film was first released many people, myself included, viewed it as an attempt by Depp to go “mainstream”. Depp, however has said in interviews that was the furthest thing from his mind.
“It’s not a conscious attempt to be commercial at all – I read the screenplay and liked it a lot. I was on the edge of my seat when I read this thing. It reminded me a lot of the old Hitchcock films. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to work with [director] John Badham. I was a big fan of Saturday Night Fever, which he directed; it’s a great movie. I also wanted to work with Christopher Walken, whom I’ve always admired.”
If you can look past the ridiculousness of the premise and some of the larger plot holes, the movie delivers on what it promises – a fairly tense, but forgettable thriller. While it feels like Badham is reaching for something akin to the Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 masterpiece “The Conversation” it never comes close. In addition to the weak plot, the film suffers from never allowing the audience to invest in Watson and his daughter beyond their immediate predicament. Watson’s deceased ex-wife is briefly mentioned, but it seems like more of an excuse for why a busy 90s dad is travelling alone with his daughter than for any emotional stake. Similarly the audience is kept at arms length from the conspiracy plot and the stakes for the individual players.
Not one of Depp’s most memorable roles, but still an essential stepping stone on his growth as an actor.
By the Numbers
- 2nd film in which Depp plays an accountant, the other being Dead Man (1995)
- 2nd film in which Depp wears glasses for significant portion of the film , the other being Dead Man (1995).
- 1st film in which Depp plays someone’s father.
Next up in the rotation is the 1997 gangster drama – Donnie Brasco featuring Al Pacino.