“Center of the Web” is a lively but over-plotted thriller best suited for the international action market. Good cast, including top-billed Robert Davi in an atypical good-guy role, may also attract some respectable video rental coin.
Filmed on location in Mobile, Ala., pic begins with drama teacher Ted Prior being mistaken for a notorious hit man and forced into a car by two thugs. After drive-by gunmen spray the car with bullets, one thug is dead, another flees and Prior is left to explain things to the cops.
Fortunately, Prior’s g.f. (Charlene Tilton) is an assistant D.A. and gets him sprung from jail. Unfortunately, a mysterious Justice Dept. official (Robert Davi) threatens to put Prior back behind bars unless he continues to pose as the hit man, who’s been hired to assassinate a visiting governor.
This sets up pic’s best line, from Prior: “You need Al Pacino for this, not me! If I were that good an actor, I wouldn’t be teaching!”
Naturally, nothing is what it seems, and nobody can be taken at face value. Prior turns out to be a deep cover fed agent, but that doesn’t help much when he learns that the hit man has been set up as a fall guy by assassination conspirators. Tilton seeks help from an old family friend, a retired CIA operative (Tony Curtis). But neither Tilton nor Curtis can be trusted completely. And D.A. Bo Hopkins can’t be trusted at all.
Writer-director David A. Prior’s screenplay contains even more double- and triple-crossing than “White Sands.” Some of the plot explanations must be delivered in the kind of rapid-fire dialogue that generates convulsive giggles more than sweaty-palmed suspense. Even so, Prior keeps “Center of the Web” racing along just fast enough to make it diverting B-movie fun.
Robert Davi is a standout with his imposing underplaying. Other members of the cast deliver the goods, with Tilton managing to maintain her dignity during a totally gratuitous nude scene. Prior–the actor, not the filmmaker–handles the action-hero stuff more than adequately.
Tech credits are fine, with particularly strong work from the special effects and stunt crews during a chase that has Prior’s car repeatedly rammed by a bad guy in a commandeered school bus. The bad guy, incidentally, is played by William Zipp with a hairdo best described as ersatz Lyle Lovett.