The self-regulated moratorium on blowing things up in movies and entertainment is over. Although “Dead in a Heartbeat” isn’t part of the antiterrorist entertainment bandwagon, it does throw caution and taste to the wind with the preposterous story of a deranged killer who blows up a bunch of innocent people by booby-trapping their pacemakers. The unevenly paced thriller from director Paul Antier does have its moments, though, thanks to an usual amount of character development and a few surprisingly affecting performances. Thriller should perform well for TBS.
Penelope Ann Miller stars as Dr. Gillian Hayes, a brilliant heart surgeon whose supreme self-confidence and success rate more than compensates for her frosty bedside manner. Judge Reinhold is Lt. Tom Royko, an earnest single father and fairly happy-go-lucky who works on the L.A. bomb squad.
Their worlds collide when the disturbed Franklin (Timothy Busfield), obsessed with the death of his son during a heart operation by Hayes, starts killing off her patients by detonating high-tech bombs implanted in pacemakers.
It’s a highly contrived and disturbing plot that, despite giant leaps of logic, certainly generates tension and thrills. But what elevates this pic above mere mindless thriller is some surprisingly poignant human interaction, especially between Royko and his son Troy (Jeffrey Ballard) and, eventually, Royko and Hayes.
Writers Mark Rosman and Richard Ades have peppered the script with some clever and personal dialogue, including one scene with an amusing discourse on money management and taxation. The script would have further benefited from the science-geeks-as-heroes approach that has made a hit out of “CSI,” but then again, this pic was designed as an action vehicle. Still, the second hour loses a lot to the gruesome details of the story, including a violent confrontation between Dr. Hayes and Franklin as well as two disturbing scenes involving children in jeopardy.
The problem with any movie about terrorists of any kind is that nothing can possibly justify such heinous actions. Busfield is appropriately menacing, but his pain is never felt — it’s just inflicted on others. That leaves the majority of emotional weight on the shoulders of Reinhold and Miller, and both actors carry it well.
Reinhold’s Royko isn’t the self-assured professional that Dr. Hayes is, although he is every bit as competent. But it is his vulnerability, pitted against Gillian’s diminishing confidence, that makes the film believable on at least one small level.
Director Antier’s action sequences are a bit overzealous, but he deftly mixes the action with the interpersonal subplots. Other technical credits, especially special effects and surgical scenes, are extremely well done. Similarly, Louis Febre’s pulsating techno music is a distinct fit with the heart-racing theme of the film.