The year’s third big explosives orgy (after “Speed” and “Blown Away”), Luis Llosa’s “The Specialist” delivers plenty of bright fireballs while agreeably dispensing with the genre cliche of mad bomber fighting iron-willed hero amid a terrified populace. But pic fails to make good on the potential chemistry of Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone, who oddly spend most of their screen time communicating by phone. Since the result is to romantic thrillerdom what phone sex is to the real thing, B.O. prospects look iffy after initial curiosity about star teaming is defused.
Notably lacking in forward momentum until very late in the game, story opens with a prologue in which CIA explosives specialists Ray Quick (Stallone) and Ned Trent (James Woods) come to blows while trying to assassinate a Colombian drug lord. Though the targeted car also carries a little girl, psycho Ned, the “rigger,” is eager to blow it to kingdom come anyway. Humane Ray, the “trigger,” tries to abort the mission. After his effort proves unsuccessful enough to provide pic its first big bang, Ray retaliates by giving Ned a whaling and later getting him booted from the agency.
Subsequent grudge feud moves to the back burner when tale shifts to present-day Miami. Ray makes phone contact with a potential client, May Munro (Stone), who is looking to eradicate three Cuban-American gangsters led by Tomas Leon (Eric Roberts).
Flashback explains that May as a child watched the trio brutally murder her parents. She’s bent on revenge, but with Ray initially refusing to lend his services, she must proceed alone. He is, however, sufficiently intrigued to follow her actions from a safely voyeuristic distance.
She begins by making herself available to Tomas, capably in-
carnated by Roberts, who projects no ethnicity whatsoever but again proves his aptitude at oozing sleaze from every pore.
The killer’s affair transpires under the increasingly watchful eyes of his crime boss father, Joe Leon (Rod Steiger), and Ned, who now appears to be simultaneously employed by the Leon family and the Miami police, a bizarre if advantageous dual career that is never sufficiently explained.
Ray continues to observe May’s relationship with Tomas, until disgust gets the better of him. This is the story’s most plausible turn, since Tomas is nothing less than repulsiveness in human form.
Ray finally agrees to execute May’s wishes, and does so quite literally: Via his incendiary expertise, Tomas’ two accomplices are transformed into grilled gangster.
Ray warns May before setting out to bomb one, “If this is a setup, I’ll kill you.” The threat leads, with no small obviousness, to the tale’s second half, where May’s ulterior motives fuse with Ned’s and Ray must extricate
himself from a tangle of malevolent schemings.
Helmer Llosa, abetted by cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball, gives pic a polished look and handles action scenes competently. He faces a thankless task, though, in trying to breathe life into Alexandra Seros’ script, which not only serves up cliched characters with cartoon motives but fails to connect main players dramatically.
Through much the of pic Stallone, Stone and Woods seem to be appearing in separate movies. If so, the best is the one inhabited by Woods, who attacks his somewhat absurd part with exuberant, scenery-devouring gusto.
Stallone and Stone turn in solid if unremarkable work, but can hardly overcome the script’s staggering mistake in not setting them face-to-face until 70 minutes in. Their eventual sex scene will make most viewers yearn for another building to go to blazes.
Tech credits are fine, with John Barry’s score inappropriately but enjoyably evoking 007’s Caribbean adventures.