"Most Wanted" plays like a made-for-video B movie that somehow won the lottery and got a theatrical release. Blandly generic and transparently derivative, pic appears to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces of earlier, better thrillers. It's doubtful that top-billed Keenen Ivory Wayans has the star power to propel this trifle very high on the B.O. charts.

“Most Wanted” plays like a made-for-video B movie that somehow won the lottery and got a theatrical release. Blandly generic and transparently derivative, pic appears to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces of earlier, better thrillers. It’s doubtful that top-billed Keenen Ivory Wayans has the star power to propel this trifle very high on the B.O. charts. Down the line, however, pic could generate mild interest in ancillary venues.

Wayans wrote the prefab screenplay and gave himself the lead role of Sgt. James Dunn, a U.S. Marines sniper with a conscience. After refusing to shoot a young shepherd during a Gulf War foray, Dunn struggles with a gun-wielding superior officer and ends up convicted of the officer’s murder. On his way to death row, however, Dunn is rescued from a prisoner-transport bus, and “recruited” for a top-secret special ops squad. Under the command of Lt. Col. Grant Casey (Jon Voight), the “Black Sheep” unit is charged with neutralizing criminals who have avoided the grasp of conventional law enforcement. Or so Casey claims, and Dunn believes him

On his very first mission, Dunn is made the fall guy for the assassination of the first lady during the dedication of a Los Angeles medical research building. Fortunately, an eyewitness, Dr. Victoria Constantini (Jill Hennessy), videotaped the assassination. Unfortunately, neither Dunn nor Constantini may live long enough to show the tape to anyone.

Dunn becomes the target of a massive manhunt, pursued by L.A. cops, federal agents and military ops; leader of the latter is Gen. Adam Woodward, a stern-faced fellow who occasionally moonlights under the alias of — yes, you guessed it — Lt. Col. Grant Casey.

Voight, currently enjoying a career renaissance with a slew of scene-stealing supporting roles, clearly enjoys himself as Casey/Woodward. At times, his lazy drawl and eruptive laughter suggest Voight has spent a lot of time studying Robert Duvall in similar character parts. In any event, his performance serves as a live wire that occasionally jumpstarts the sluggishly paced “Most Wanted.”As for Wayans, his macho-man efforts here and in last year’s “The Glimmer Man” indicate that, as a movie action hero, he’s a terrific TV talkshow host. Wayans the actor is poorly served by Wayans the screenwriter — he doesn’t even get any memorable one-liners. But the entire cast is marooned by the script, which relies heavily on murky conspiracies and incredible coincidences.

Only once do Wayans and nominal director David Glenn Hogan come up with something different and genuinely amusing: Shortly after a $10 million bounty is posted on his character, Wayans is chased through the streets by what appears to be half the population of Los Angeles.

Hennessy is competent but colorless as Dunn’s only ally. But perhaps “colorless” is the wrong word to use in this context, since “Most Wanted” is yet another mainstream American movie that takes great pains to emphasize there’s nothing romantic going on between the white heroine and the black hero. Paul Sorvino and Eric Roberts go through the motions as CIA operatives who may or may not help Dunn. Robert Culp turns up as a corrupt industrialist.

Production values are generally unremarkable, though Marc Reshovsky’s moody cinematography is worthy of a better movie.

Most Wanted

Production

A New Line Cinema release of an Ivory Way production. Produced by Eric L. Gold. Executive producers, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Tony Mark. Directed by David Glenn Hogan. Screenplay, Keenen Ivory Wayans.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Marc Reshovsky; editor, Michael J. Duthie; music, Paul Bruckmaster; production design, Jean-Philippe Carp; art direction, Arlan Jay Vetter; set decoration, Alex Carle; costume design, Ileane Meltzer; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS), Michael Hogan; assistant director, Carl Goldstein; casting, Valerie McCaffrey. Reviewed at Cinemark Tinseltown USA 290, Houston, Oct. 8, 1997. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Sgt. James Dunn - Keenen Ivory Wayans
Casey/Woodward - Jon Voight
Dr. Victoria Constantini - Jill Hennessy
Rackmill - Paul Sorvino
Spencer - Eric Roberts
Donald Bickhart - Robert Culp
Capt. Steve Braddock - Wolfgang Bodison
Stephen Barnes - Simon Baker Denny
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