Review: ‘Truth or Consequences, N.M.’

Kiefer Sutherland handles his feature directorial outing with thoroughly pro panache in "Truth or Consequences, N.M.," in which he also co-stars, but his skills and a fine cast do little more than give a polished sheen to a crime caper so hackneyed it might have been written by a computer following a program labeled "sub-Tarantino." Though Brad Mirman's script offers some funny dialogue and a couple of mildly interesting subplot ideas, its basis is a tedious rehash of guns-and-drugs action cliches. Crucially lacking in engaging central characters, it should do no more than so-so genre biz at the B.O., though ancillaries may prove a bit brighter. Formulaic from the first, tale opens with Raymond Lembecke (Vincent Gallo) leaving prison, reuniting with his g.f., Addy (Kim Dickens), then falling straight back into a life of crime. With henchmen Marcus (Mykelti Williamson) and Curtis (Sutherland), the couple tries to rob a drug dealer, but (anyone who's seen a movie in the last 10 years knows the rest of this sentence already) the heist blows up, people are killed, and the crooks go on the lam carrying a load of ill-gotten dope.

To make sure every cliche in the book is included, one of the henchmen, Marcus, is an undercover DEA agent, while the other, Curtis, is a hair-trigger psycho. Once they’re out of Salt Lake City, the foursome steal an RV and kidnap its owners, an ordinary middle-class couple named Gordon (Kevin Pollak) and Donna (Grace Phillips), who remain with them till the final shootout.

Though it borrows from “Bonnie and Clyde” and other films, the involvement of the straight couple in this criminal odyssey is the tale’s one aspect that has a whiff of freshness. Gordon develops a macho identification with his captors, even striking up an odd friendship with nutso Curtis, while Donna looks on appalled, realizing that he’s not the man she thought she knew. Strong work by Pollak and Phillips helps make these characters even more distinctive.

Naturally, the cops and feds are in hot pursuit, though they prove conveniently ineffectual till the final reel. Meanwhile, the body count rises again, in Las Vegas, when an attempt to unload the drugs on a powerful mobster (Rod Steiger) goes wrong. The gang then briefly hides out at the house of Raymond’s former cellmate (Max Perlich), whose goose is cooked when he returns home to face the mob enforcer (Martin Sheen) sent to track down his old pal.

In New Mexico, a state that apparently names towns after ’60s gameshows, the drama ends with the huge shootout — convoking crooks, drug dealers, mobsters and lawmen — that every sentient filmgoer will have seen approaching from reel one.

At the center of this mayhem fest, Gallo proves he has the screen charisma to lead a film, but his part as written is too flat to merit the viewer’s continued involvement. Ditto for Dickens. Supporting roles have more flair, and Sutherland gets other standout contributions from Williamson, who deftly conveys the undercover cop’s dual personas, and Steiger, a vivid presence in his fatal encounter with the gang.

Sutherland acquits himself well in all aspects of helming, including the action elements, and a range of top-flight tech work is led by Ric Waite’s sharp lensing. It’s just a shame so much expertise is lavished on such banal, annoyingly redundant material.

Truth or Consequences, N.M.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Triumph Films presentation of a Higgins/Messick/Wayne production. Produced by J. Paul Higgins, Kevin J. Messick, Hilary Wayne. Executive producer, Phillip M. Goldfarb. Co-producer, Brad Mirman. Directed by Kiefer Sutherland. Screenplay, Brad Mirman.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Ric Waite; editor, Lawrence Jordan; music, Jude Cole; production design, Anne Stuhler; art direction, Roswell Hamrick; costume design, Susan Bertram; sound (Dolby SDDS), Walter Anderson; assistant director, Lee Cleary; casting, Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins. Reviewed at the 84th Street Six, N.Y., April 23, 1997. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

With

Raymond Lembecke ..... Vincent Gallo Marcus Weans ..... Mykelti Williamson Curtis Freley ..... Kiefer Sutherland Gordon Jacobson ..... Kevin Pollak Addy Monroe ..... Kim Dickens Donna Moreland ..... Grace Phillips Frank Thompson ..... .Rick Rossovich Eddie Grillo ..... .John C. McGinley Wayne ..... .Max Perlich Tony Vago ..... Rod Steiger Sir ..... Martin Sheen
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