Monday, May 10, 2010

Film Review: WHITE SANDS (1992, Roger Donaldson)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Roger Donaldson (COCKTAIL, SPECIES, THIRTEEN DAYS). Starring Willem Dafoe, Mickey Rourke, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (SCARFACE, THE ABYSS), M. Emmet Walsh (BLOOD SIMPLE, STRAIGHT TIME), John P. Ryan (CLASS OF 1999, FATAL BEAUTY, THE COTTON CLUB), Miguel Sandoval (JURASSIC PARK, REPO MAN), Maura Tierney (ER, SCOTLAND PA), Royce D. Applegate (Rev. Brocklehurst on TWIN PEAKS, UNDER SIEGE 2), and cameos by Mimi Rogers (WEDLOCK, THE RAPTURE) and (failed presidential candidate) Fred Dalton Thompson.
Tag-line: "The most dangerous way to solve a murder... become the victim."
Best one-liner: "I've never met anyone like're honest...even when you're lying."

WHITE SANDS is a mediocre conspiracy thriller in the mold of countless others, but it remains watchable because it's packed to the gills with talented and eclectic performers. Frequently, it's a complete rip-off of the underrated, underseen FLASHPOINT (1984): from the Tangerine Dream-y score to the desert discovery of a mysterious body with a shitload of cash to Kurtwood Smith's monologue about how sedition, chaos, and crime are the lifeblood of the government (here delivered by Mickey Rourke)- it's really quite shameless. Regardless, Willem Dafoe plays a cop whose suburban New Mexican existence is so insipid that he decides to impersonate the dead man on a whim, kind of just to see what happens.
Dafoe, as directed by Roger Donaldson (COCKTAIL, SPECIES) is pretty restrained, but there are a few fantastic moments which creep through- mainly Dafoe's childlike excitement at going undercover. There's a whirlwind of excitable eyebrow action, and his cheerful naïveté ("I can be a Bob!") is truly something to behold.
This is the most exciting moment of his life. But the tables soon turn- he becomes a victim of clothes-slashing lesbians:
Willem Dafoe: brutalized by lesbians.

makes the acquaintance of slippery (uncredited) arms dealer John P. Ryan:
John P. Ryan: once again, underappreciated. See also: my review of FATAL BEAUTY.

begins a war of wills with intense FBI man Sam Jackson:
Hold on to your butts

and begins a whirling dance of death (on eggshells) with enigmatic malfeasant Rourke (who is always compelling, even when phoning it in- as is proved here):
Mickey Rourke: smug, because he thinks he just swindled the producers for a paycheck by 'phoning it in,' when in reality, he couldn't help but deliver an intricate, multi-faceted performance.

We've got some 90's neo-noir action with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio ("You're not the kind of woman I'd expect to see in a rodeo." –"I'm not the kind of woman you'd expect." GROAAAAN); a healthy dollop of skeezy n' sleazy
M. Emmet Walsh in a bolo tie (is there any other kind?); and bit parts for everyone from Maura Tierney to Miguel Sandoval:
'Why does everyone forget that I was in JURASSIC PARK?'

to that guy (Royce P. Applegate) from the DIFF'RENT STROKES kidnapping episode ("I will kill your parents, Sam"). They even manage to work in a Dafoe shower scene which lends credence to my theory that Dafoe might actually be naked more often than Keitel.

Three (ensemble-cast) stars.

-Sean Gill


Unknown said...

This is one of those films that looks better on paper than the actual final product. To me, I always saw it as one of those uber slick thrillers that came out in the 1990s (see POINT OF NO RETURN) that is pretty soulless but looks good.

Too bad, because Willem Dafoe and Mickey Rourke deserve to be in a better film together. You wanna see a neat little gem, check out HOMEBOY which features Rourke as a down-on-his-luck (what else?) boxer who catches the eye of a corrupt grifter/promoter played by none other than Christopher Walken. Rourke goes for the mumbly minimalist route while Walken chews up the scenery. Fantastic stuff!

Sean Gill said...

Agreed- the cast alone should have made it great, but it's just such a slick, soulless thriller-by-numbers, that you're tuning it out halfway through. I blame Joe Eszterhas. Of course, I can't DIRECTLY blame him, but I feel like there's a general correlation between the rise of Eszterhas and the rise of soullessness in Hollywood thrillers.

I also see it's written by Daniel Pyne, who wrote PACIFIC HEIGHTS and THE HARD WAY, both films which I've had recommended to me at one time or another, yet still haven't seen.

HOMEBOY sounds pretty good. I remember wanting to see it after seeing that Rourke himself wrote it, and that it was the only directorial credit for DP Michael Seresin (Alan Parker's go-to man, and who shot Mickey on ANGEL HEART).