The plot shifts as often as the desert in White Sands, an absorbing, tightly coiled thriller not always easy to follow, with a fine cast, no-fat direction by Roger Donaldson, and nasties belonging to the all-purpose CIA-FBI consortium of evil.
Willem Dafoe sets himself up for plenty of abuse when, after finding a dead Indian with $500,000 in cash in the middle of nowhere, he takes on the victim’s identity in an effort to solve the case. He is quickly beaten and robbed of the loot by two babes and then abducted by the FBI. Latter demands that the stash be recovered and Dafoe keeps an appointment in Santa Fe with mysterious Mickey Rourke, who introduces him to another shadowy character, spoiled rich girl Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
Pic builds tautly to a powerful first act peak. Intensity dwindles a bit, however, when Dafoe pairs off with Mastrantonio, to whom he appeals for the extra coin.
Some thrillers have gone down as classics despite the lack of total narrative coherence, and while White Sands doesn’t rate that high, it can hold its own with Donaldson’s No Way Out as an audience-pleasing cliffhanger. An uncredited Mimi Rogers appears briefly at the outset as Dafoe’s wife.