A scene from 'Deterrence'
Courtesy Photo
*1/2 stars 101 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, April 7, 2000
Written & directed by Rod Lurie

Starring Kevin Pollak, Timothy Hutton, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Sean Austin & Bajda Djola

This film is on the Worst of 2000 list.


Since "Deterrence" is made-for-cable quality anyway, if you came across it on a channel-surfing Saturday it might not seem quite so laughably pretentious, but more like a weak episode of a cheap suspense anthology show. But if you rent it, you'll hate yourself.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 08/29/2000


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Seriocomic nuclear stand-off drama in a diner, 'Deterrence' collapses under weight of its own absurdity

By Rob Blackwelder

Many film critics are frustrated screenwriters and wannabe directors. Occasionally one of us escapes the asylum and manages to get a movie made (Roger Ebert wrote "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls").

Even less frequently one of us makes a good movie (former reviewer Peter Bogdanovich directed "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon").

But most of the time critics-cum-filmmakers fall flat on their faces like Rod Lurie, the former KABC radio reviewer who wrote and directed the howlingly bad "Deterrence," a cold war remnant that tries to recreate the tension of a nuclear stand-off by giving Saddam Hussien's son a secret, world-wide arsenal and pitting him against an embattled president, snowed-in at a Colorado diner during the crisis.

The whole picture takes place in this diner, where President Walter Emmerson (former stand-up comedian Kevin Pollak) spends half the movie talking on satellite phones to advisers and world leaders while a passel of nervous patrons looks on.

Pretentious, ludicrous, unskilled and about a decade too late to be effectively suspenseful, this Red Scare-spawn B-movie reeks of cheap production values, amateurish directorial decisions (unmotivated dramatic camera zooms accompanied by an irritatingly insistent, "Twilight Zone"-style score) and lame dramatic gimmicks (it's shot partially in black-and-white).

It's almost impossible to buy the cigar-chomping Pollak as presidential timber, too (although he is just a VP who took over the office after the president died). As he ignores his advisers (Timothy Hutton and Sheryl Lee Ralph) and plays the hawk -- insisting he won't back down to terrorist threats and will retaliate in kind -- the audience grows to hate this guy, which makes sitting through the movie an even more excruciating.

Although it has a few strong moments when Pollak butts heads with Hutton and Ralph over his hard-line stance, "Deterrence" becomes seriocomical when the peanut gallery of supporting players (a trucker, a waitress, a bickering couple playing chess -- ooo! the symbolism!) start offering their unsolicited opinions.

After writing himself into a dramatic corner, Lurie opts for a last reel cop-out so insultingly absurd and nonsensical that it's not only a slap in the face of the audience, but also erases any semblance of integrity Pollak's president might have had.

This movie has been sitting on a shelf for two years, and it's no wonder. It's an embarrassment. The bad news is, Lurie has another picture coming out later this year called "The Contender" about a female vice president caught in a sex scandal. I can't tell you how much I'm dreading that.

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