Film and TV


The first (and maybe the last) thing anyone will want to know about The Specialist is that an hour and a half passes before Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone pretend to copulate in the shower.

Until then, what they do is model expensive sunglasses down in Miami and talk on the phone. This is not late-night, 900-number sex talk, either. Fact is, they talk about--ho hum--killing people. Then Stallone goes out and blows up those people with fiendishly clever minibombs. And if that turns you on, you'd better find a psychiatrist.

In other words, this high-priced matchup of Hollywood sex symbols features a lot more explosions than orgasms. Trouble is, explosion is a subject already amply explored this year in the demolition work of crazy Dennis Hopper (Speed) and crazy Tommy Lee Jones (Blown Away).

However, this movie is the real bomb.
Our old friend Sly, whose sculpted muscles are beginning to take on an aged, rubberized look, has been cast as Rambo refitted with lots of high-tech gizmos--a former CIA bomber named Ray Quick who's now living alone with a stray cat and brooding about his violent past. At least that's what it looks like: When Stallone broods, it's harder than ever to understand him.

The stone-faced Stone, meanwhile, has undergone a stock Hollywood trauma. As a girl, young May Munro has witnessed the brutal murders of her parents by a pair of Cuban gangsters. Now that she's all grown up and has dresses that fit like exterior latex, revenge eats at her soul. May means to kill those badass Cubans, and Ray Quick is her hired man.

That's about it. Except for the shower scene. And Ray's bombs--nasty little things he plants in key chains and coffee saucers so they will exterminate only the intended victim.

We also have some villains. Primarily, there's James Woods as a wonderfully slimy, smart and manipulative hit man named Ned Trent, once Ray Quick's partner in government dirty tricks. Now an odious renegade, he sucks his teeth annoyingly. He slaps Stone around. He intimidates cops with his arrogance. This is, in fact, another perfect Woods role--despite the fact that poor Ned is condemned to drive around in the only fuchsia Porsche in the entire underworld.

In the second rank of evil, we find Eric (just call me Julia's big bro) Roberts as the cocky, hot-tempered Tomas Leon, the none-too-bright scion of Miami's most powerful crime family. That Tomas Leon is modeled on Sonny Corleone is inevitable. That he comes off inferior in every way is, too. That Stone's seething May feels it necessary to bed Tomas in order to kill him is ridiculous.

But the movie's real oddity is Rod Steiger, once one of moviedom's greatest actors. Here he's gussied up in the pseudo-Brando part of ancient don Joe Leon. Courtly and superficially kind, old Joe conceals his viper's instincts well. But Steiger has trouble concealing this piece of miscasting: "Jouse was suppose to watch heez back," Rod intones, and suddenly we realize how far removed he is from the waterfront, the pawnshop and that hot Southern town with a fresh murder on its hands.

There's no point trying to tease you with bits of plot here, for it involves little more than the usual steady reduction in the cast of characters. Ray Quick blows a henchman straight out of a Cadillac. Workaday Peruvian (yes, Peruvian) director Luis Llosa blows an entire suite off the side of the Fountainebleu Hotel, complete with occupants. Woods finally blows his cool.

Presumably to keep us watching something, the entire cast--good guys and bad--run around in an endless supply of slick tropical fashions, stuff Don Johnson couldn't imagine in his wildest dreams of swinging Dade County.

Meanwhile, Stallone again displays his one dramatic coloration (tough-guy-with-big-heart) while leaving room for Stone to trot out hers (cool-vixen-bent-on-trouble). Such is life. No one will mistake them for DeNiro and Streep hard at work, nor will anyone confuse The Specialist with Citizen Kane.

From the rather tame shower business backward, this movie means to be a ticket mill. And maybe it will be--as long as old formulas and predictable action turns don't blow up in the faces of the bomb makers.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo