Dabney Coleman and Timothy Busfield have made their marks in television portraying irritating characters. In this routine telepic, they play two loathsome guys on opposite sides of the law. It’s tough to root for either one and tougher to get excited about the entire effort.
Director Bobby Roth tries to lend style to the proceedings, and while the pace is good and the photography by Shelly Johnson glamorizes L.A., it’s really just business as usual.
The revenge-of-the-civil-servant premise, supposedly based on true events, has promise. Coleman is IRS investigator Arthur Milo, who uses info gained on the job to kidnap sons of wealthy, tax-evading lawyers. In a credibility-straining plot point, he has the authority to sign out prisoners from jail for a few hours, and uses them to help with his jobs.
Pete Honeycutt (Busfield), who’s separated from his wife and doesn’t spend enough time with his boy, is the cocky, irreverent FBI agent on the case.
Pic plays out as a personal game of cat-and-mouse between two obnoxious guys on the government payroll. Too bad they don’t really get a chance to match wits. But the makers do contrive to have them square off mano a mano at the end: The SWAT team that corners Milo can’t corral him, thus allowing Honeycutt to take his best shot. ]
Afraid to stick to a crime story, Thomas Baum’s script tackles Honeycutt’s domestic life (he finally does right by his boy and resuscitates the marriage) and, more generally, the role of fathers, putting forth some vague statement about masculinity and father-son relations.
For all the gesturing at this theme, no one’s motivation is revealed. Is Milo jealous of the rich, exacting taxpayers’ revenge, or just plain greedy? Did his stint with the Secret Service — introduced by an obviously doctored photo with Coleman’s head on the body of a man standing next to President Nixon — result in a penchant for showing up law enforcement? Nor do we learn why agent Honeycutt is such a sourpuss, at least not careerwise.
These psychological loose ends are frustrating. There’s no one to sympathize with except all the neglected female characters, especially Honeycutt’s partner (Lauren Tom). More attention to the crimes and Milo’s m.o. would have helped.
Together, Coleman and Busfield raise glibness to a new height. Although they appear to be having fun, pic is only mildly amusing. Those responsible for “In the Line of Fire: Kidnapped” should have stuck with comparing two kinds of civil servant rather than two alleged types of manhood.