Leah Rozen
April 28, 1997 12:00 PM

Wesley Snipes, Diane Lane, Alan Alda, Daniel Benzali, Dennis Miller

Better watch your back the next time you take a tour of the White House. If the latest trio of Washington conspiracy films—Absolute Power, The Shadow Conspiracy and now Murder at 1600—is to be believed, no one’s safe in that mansion these days. The sinister stuff that goes on in these movies makes the stink raised over missing Whitewater documents and Presidential access-peddling seem like pathetic nit-picking.

Early on in Murder at 1600, a thriller that starts out workmanlike and gets steadily worse, the bloody corpse of an attractive female staffer is discovered in a White House lavatory stall. The Washington homicide detective (Snipes) assigned to investigate finds the Secret Service staff at the mansion less than helpful. Could this be because the President’s hormone-happy son, whose personal goal is to make a conquest in every room in the White House, had been having an affair with the dead woman? He’s just one of several suspects as 1600 takes more twists and turns than a Palmer Method penmanship class. The movie, like Absolute Power, becomes increasingly preposterous with each new plot turn. (Shadow Conspiracy started off truly dumb and stayed that way.)

Snipes toils hard here, adding whatever humor or subtext he can to his scenes, but there’s only so much one man can do. Lane, pouty and stiff, is of little help as a Secret Service agent who first hinders and then assists Snipes (conveniently, she is also an Olympic gold-medal-winning sharpshooter). Benzali (Murder One) exudes oily evil as the head of White House security, while Alan Alda does his road company Captain Queeg as the President’s closest adviser. The jaunty Miller, playing Snipes’s pal on the force, is wasted in a trifling part.

Fashion note: Just in time for her and Snipes’s final assault on the White House, Lane strips down to her tank top, obligatory garb it seems these days for action-movie babes. (R)

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