March 01, 1993 12:00 PM

Michael Douglas, Robert Duvall, Barbara Hershey, Tuesday Weld

Refreshingly unusual and provocative if hardly unique, this exercise in urbanite catharsis evokes the 1968 Burt Lancaster film The Swimmer as well as Charles Bronson’s 1974 Death Wish.

But in this case, instead of trying to dog-paddle or shoot his way out of his societal angst, Douglas, as a hopelessly frustrated ex-aerospace industry worker, tries to walk and shoot his way out of Los Angeles after abandoning his car in the middle of a summer morning traffic jam. En route he gets in a few figurative and literal shots at predatory youths, unpleasant ex-wives, right-wing crazies, convenience-store clerks and the general anomie of big city life.

The casting is bizarre. It’s hard to watch the film without thinking that Duvall, who plays the about-to-retire cop pursuing Douglas, would have portrayed the central character’s wrung-out world-weariness with more impact than the reflexively posing and attitudinizing Douglas. Hershey, as Douglas’s fed-up, unforgiving wife, is too big a personality for her role, while Weld, as Duvall’s shrewish spouse, seems constricted in her small part.

Director Joel Schumacher and writer Ebbe Roe Smith never lake the movie very far beyond the level of bare vindictiveness. There are no insights into urban life other than to decry the obvious, such as drive-by shootings and blatant sexism. And the notion of his leaving his car in the middle of a highway, thereby adding to everyone else’s woes, hardly makes Douglas a sympathetic character. Audiences will want him to succumb to the urban threats rather than triumph over them. (R)

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