The Austin Chronicle

The Sum of All Fears

Rated PG-13, 119 min. Directed by Phil Alden Robinson. Starring Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates, Philip Baker Hall, Ron Rifkin, Ciaran Hinds, Bridget Moynahan.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 31, 2002

If you've ever wondered what crackerjack CIA Agent Jack Ryan was like back when he was little more than a goggle-eyed pup with not even the peachfuzz of Tom Clancy's Cold War combat theatrics yet bristling from his chinny-chin-chin, boy, are you in luck. The Sum of All Fears -- the fourth Ryan movie following Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October and Harrison Ford in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger -- takes place in an alternate universe where not only is Ryan barely out of his teens, but also little more than a junior G-man with the barest of upward aspirations. To quote Ben Affleck's Ryan when he's asked to stick his neck out a bit, “I don't go on missions, I write reports.” Whaaaaa …? Somewhere Ford and Baldwin are having a good laugh over this, though fans of the franchise (and Tom Clancy's bestselling techno-thrillers) are apt to gnash their teeth down to the gumline as the seriously miscast Affleck, forever behind the eight-ball as he's recruited by CIA Director Will Cabot (a crusty Freeman delivering his lines from behind an old man's wry grimace) for advice on the suddenly shifting geopolitics over in Russia and upstart Chechnya. When the old guard dies off and a new, seemingly warmongering cur takes the Great Bear's helm, the CIA and President Fowler (Cromwell) are understandably jittery. Ryan, who penned a respected paper on incoming Russian President Nemerov (Hinds) once upon a time, is called in to act as Cabot's unofficial advisor as a group of U.S. politicos travel to Moscow to assess whether the Kremlin is indeed dismantling their nuclear stockpile as previously promised. While there, Ryan notes a trio of missing Russian nuclear scientists and stumbles, literally, into a plot by unknown forces to build a renegade bomb and ship it to the U.S. But whether it's the Ruskies behind the scheme or some faceless faction from one of that superpower's disintegrating satellite of nations is up for grabs. I give away nothing that the film's marketing hasn't already revealed when I say the bomb makes it to Baltimore, where, in a clever homage to John Frankenheimer's Black Sunday, it costs the Raven's their championship game (and plenty else). The Sum of All Fears feels awfully rushed, as Ryan flies from the Ukraine to Moscow to the Russian hinterlands and back to Baltimore to make sweet, sophomore agent love to his physician girlfriend (Moynahan). It has the feel of one of 007's globe-hopping adventures, but without any of that franchise's giddy sense of fun. Tom Clancy's novel clocked in at an epic 900-plus pages and Robinson's film is barely two hours -- the story has been manhandled down to the barest bones, and it feels skeletal, hurried, and trivial despite that great arcing mushroom cloud over Poe Town. And of course the wisdom of even releasing this film in the midst of America's current terrorist threat, with AG John Ashcroft saying it's only a matter of time before this sort of thing actually happens in real life, is a bit of a downer; it makes Robinson's film hard to stomach at times, and laughable at others. And isn't the freshly exposed Ryan going to die from traipsing around a post-nuclear downtown Baltimore awash in fallout, anyway? Whatever. You want excitement, panic, and governmental foul-ups that result in tragic loss of life? Watch CNN.

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