Liberty Stands Still” is an all too descriptive title for a political hostage thriller that lays on its politics with a heavy hand and delivers its thrills with a disconcerting lack of tension. On paper, writer-director Kari Skogland’s script places stars Linda Fiorentino and Wesley Snipes in situations fraught with peril — both for their characters and for their range as actors. Fiorentino is forcibly held at long-range gunpoint; Snipes holds the rifle on her. Thus it is for nearly 90-some minutes, and the drama revolving around a man’s revenge against a gun manufacturer soon loses momentum. Extreme talkiness and static characters peg this as a better fit for the small screen, where Skogland is a Canadian vet. Lions Gate release will surely find a considerably smaller theatrical turnout than is the norm for Snipes’ action vehicles.
Things become immediately tense when a good-looking actor, Russell (Martin Cummins), is forced to sit perfectly still in his green room by Joe (Snipes), who has set up a motion-detecting bomb. It looks like Russell will not only miss his entrance at the Los Angeles Theater Center, but also his rendezvous with his lover Liberty (Fiorentino), the wife of gun manufacturing magnate Victor (Oliver Platt). Liberty, who appears to be supremely full of herself, receives a fateful cell call from Joe, who informs her that his rifle is targeted on her.
With the drama basically playing out in real time, Liberty is made to shackle herself to a hot- dog stand and not hang up the phone: If she does, a bomb inside will detonate. The catch is that her cell battery has 80 minutes of juice. There are the requisite minutes of wasted time, as Joe, perched Lee Harvey Oswald-like in an abandoned office space several floors up, must forcibly convince Liberty that he means business — by firing a few shots in her general direction.
As early as 20 minutes into the running time, pic begins to test the limits of credibility: Joe’s shooting does not cause a flurry of response from police. When a cop does appear, Joe shoots him, with the intent of drawing media attention. After much delay, Joe makes his first demand — that Victor and Liberty’s firm cease a million-dollar arms deal. Victor’s “no deals with terrorists” pact with the Defense Department is tying his hands, but there’s the hint that he may just throw his wife to the wolves and live for another day.
Joe takes an unaccountably long time to finally get to the heart of the matter: His daughter was shot at her high school by a boy firing a gun made by Victor’s company, and this is payback. At the same time, Joe picks away at Liberty’s vulnerabilities, such as memories of her gun shop-owning dad who shot himself to death. Throughout all of this, however, Joe’s list of demands remains murky at best, and it’s not hard to become bored with his stunt.
The pic carries a heavy freight of on-the-nose dialogue, which Snipes delivers with his usual swagger. Even a late revelation that his character is ex-CIA, and thus used to the pressure, doesn’t excuse the lack of emotional distress shown by this grieving, vengeful father.
In the same way, Fiorentino’s usual hard-edged surface persists for far too long as the crisis accelerates into a full-on standoff with SWAT teams, hovering copters and even a couple of freelance snipers. In the end, “Liberty Stands Still” is little more than Snipes and Fiorentino trying to out-macho each other over a cell phone connection.
The casting of Platt as a magnate married to Fiorentino is far-fetched enough, and along with the phlegmatic action staging, the mix of obvious Canadian locations with shots of downtown L.A. contribute further to the pic’s credibility gap. The lensing, frequently employing telephoto shots to align us with Joe’s p.o.v., is quite sharp, while Michael Convertino’s electronic score is a bland wallpaper of sound.