Starring Alec Baldwin, Kelly Lynch, Mary Stuart Masterson, Eric Roberts
"Heaven's Prisoners"

Opens: May 17, 1996 | Rated: R

It seems so far this year that every movie with a talented cast and a fairly original storyline somehow falls far short of it's potential.

"Mullholland Falls," "Last Dance," "James and the Giant Peach" -- all are no better than wait-for-it-on-video caliber.

This week "Heaven's Prisoners" joins this list.

Alec Baldwin, whose track record has taken a turn for the worse of late, stars as a retired New Orleans cop who sees a drug-smuggling plane go down in the Gulf of Mexico and rescues a little girl from the wreckage.

The crash was no accident, and soon the mob is looking to get rid of the witnesses.

Why "Heaven's Prisoners" fails to engage is hard to pin down.

The talented cast includes Kelly Lynch as Baldwin's wife and Mary Stuart Masterson -- in a terrific departure from her usual demure, nice girl character -- as a Madonna-esque stripper.

The script, from a book by James Lee Burke, is engaging and mysterious with a number of who-do-you-trust twists. The story has several levels that turn in on themselves -- for instance, Baldwin's ex-cop is old friends with a Mafioso (classic bad guy Eric Roberts) who may have been responsible for the downed plane.

Even identifying Louisiana details are spot on -- everyone is sweaty, it rains every night, Baldwin killed a few men as a cop (the New Orleans Police have a terrible reputation for violence and corruption).

But even with all this careful attention "Heaven's Prisoners" just isn't all that interesting, and after a while to plot strays, probably out of boredom.

Despite being the movie's linchpin, the child Baldwin rescued from the plane is only on screen long enough to ask "Donde esta Mama?" before the mob kills his wife. Then it's "Donde esta Annie?" and she disappears again.

After his wife dies "Heaven's Prisoners" becomes a revenge story and picks up a little. But one impressive rooftop chase scene later, the pacing is gone again and we're left time to ponder the incontinuities.

How is it that Baldwin and his wife got to keep this kid they found instead of turning her over the authorities? What's his history with the stripper? (There must be something because she moves in with him after his wife dies.) Why does Alec Baldwin always look like he's laughing when he's supposed to be crying?

"Heaven's Prisoners" isn't a bad movie, really -- the characters are likable, the story is interesting and the performances are adequate (Roberts and Masterson are the standout players) -- it's just extraordinarily mediocre.

Get used to it. Mediocrity seems to be the Hollywood theme for 1996.

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