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Low Voltage in D.C.

JFK used the White House as his brothel. In the end, Nixon reduced it to a one-man loony bin. And the current occupant, by all accounts, has converted the place into the priciest bed-and-breakfast on the planet.

How can Hollywood fantasists hope to compete with the extremities of actual presidential behavior?

Try this on for size, beleaguered voters. In the overblown, underpowered thriller Murder at 1600, America's chief executive is cast as a suspect in the murder of a blond bombshell, and the White House is the scene of the crime. President Alan Alda may have declared war on Canada in Canadian Bacon, and the president in Absolute Power was a party-till-you-drop type. But 1600 takes the cake for high-level debunking, at least until some lunatic produces Joe (Showgirls) Eszterhas's script about a president who's caught--no kidding---having sex with a cow.

Is the holder of the highest office in the land the killer in Murder At 1600? We'd like to tell (and save you six bucks), but we won't. Suffice it to say that director Dwight Little (who's previously made movies starring Steven Seagal, Brandon Lee and Willy the Whale) and his neophyte screenwriters, Wayne Beach and David Hodgin, are familiar with the public taste for government-bashing and the conviction that people in high places are driven by low motives. This thing is a militiaman's delight.

Our hero is Harlan Regis (Wesley Snipes), a Civil War buff who also happens to be the smartest homicide detective in Washington, D.C., if not the entire world. Our heroine is Secret Service agent Nina Chance (Diane Lane), who's not only an Olympic shooting champ ("I brought home the gold," she has the nerve to say), but a woman willing to battle dangerous colleagues.

After a couple of awkward moments, Harlan and Nina unravel--were you expecting anything less?--a conspiracy that could bring the whole country down. It involves a hostage crisis in North Korea, a bullet-headed White House security chief "Murder One's Daniel Benzali) who looks like evil incarnate, and an insatiably horny First Son. There's enough red herring on hand to supply a state banquet, along with the usual surfeit of gunfire. About the only thing you don't get here is a plot to reinstall the Washington Senators in the American League. The aforementioned Mr. Alda even shows up--as the president's chief advisor.

From the paranoid spookiness of The X Files to the half-literate ravings of Tom Clancy, American mass culture has devolved into a tangle of fears and suspicions, a climate Murder at 1600 exploits with glee. Christopher Young's foreboding score is all rumble and threat, director of photography Steven Bernstein has shot everything in shadowy graveyard light, and the final chase scenes unfold in (Cheesy Symbol Alert!) the dark, unknown tunnels around and below the White House.

Don't worry too much about the fate of the nation, though, or the sanctity of its most cherished institutions. Detective Snipes is on the job, and he's got corruption surrounded. At least until they find him with a cow.

--Gallo

Murder At 1600.
Screenplay by Wayne Beach and David Hodgin. Directed by Dwight Little. With Wesley Snipes, Diane Lane, Alan Alda and Daniel Benzali.

 
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