For most of its length, "Dead Silence" is a routine hostage drama, though a couple of plot twists in the final reel, while implausible, enliven the hitherto mundane fodder. An HBO presentation domestically, pic is being offered theatrically in other territories, but TV sales and video are probably the most Alliance can expect. Filmed in Canada but set in Upstate New York, pic kicks off with mayhem as three convicts on the run collide with another vehicle on a side road, shoot the occupants and commandeer a school bus transporting kids from a nearby school for the deaf and their teacher, Melanie (Marlee Matlin). The bad guys, led by manic Southerner Handy (Kim Coates) hole up in an abandoned slaughterhouse, which is quickly surrounded by a small FBI team and local cops.
The FBI unit is led by vet John Potter (James Garner), just back on the job following an enforced layoff in the wake of a Texas bombing he allegedly mishandled; his wife has died in the interim. There’s tension between Potter and the local cops, headed by Budd (Kenneth Welsh), which is exacerbated when assistant district attorney Roland Marx (Charles Martin Smith) shows up seeking personal publicity from the hostage drama.
The bad guys show they mean business by killing the female bus driver, then settle down for a long siege while the lawmen bicker about how best to handle the situation. Eventually the resourceful Melanie manages to get most of her charges out of the slaughterhouse by way of the fast-flowing Niagara river, which is conveniently close by. But there’s still time for a couple of twists to the tale, one involving Lolita Davidovich, who makes a belated entrance 70 minutes into the pic as a hostage negotiator.
This is strictly for undemanding thriller fans, with helmer Daniel Petrie Jr. just marking time for most of the movie. But audiences lulled into thinking this is small beer indeed will be intrigued by the wildly improbable events that occupy the final minutes of the pic, including the hint of a romance between grizzled Garner and courageous Matlin.
The actors aren’t called upon to extend themselves in any way, though Coates makes a meal of the mangy villain. Technical credits are OK.