Several plotlines arrive unannounced and collide onscreen, not layering but rather diffusing the action in “The Line,” helmer James Cotten’s confused and confusing shoot-’em-up saga of drug traffickers, government agencies, Afghan terrorists, assassins and priests. Despite a stellar cast, which includes Ray Liotta (who also exec produced), Andy Garcia, Esai Morales and Armand Assante, the pic’s various strands never truly tie up, although a nifty final twist nearly conjures the illusion of clarity in hindsight. “Line” is touring at scattered Landmark theaters in a prepackaged Maya Entertainment roadshow; its stand-alone theatrical future seems dubious, but stars should ensure brisk ancillary business.
Terminally ill crime kingpin Javier Salazar (Garcia) has handed over his drug dynasty to Pelon (Morales), a non-family member who was positioning himself to take over. The decision proves unpopular with several key players, among them Salazar’s illegitimate gay son, Diablo (Jordi Vilasuso). When Pelon ups the ante by entering into an agreement with a couple of Afghanis, opening “the line” connecting Mexico and the U.S. to the Taliban, he multiplies the number of hitmen on his tail, some dispatched by the local CIA official (Joe Morton).
Enter vet assassin Mark Shields (Liotta), trailing the emotional baggage of having offed an untargeted woman, who now haunts him at inopportune moments.
The pic, at various stages, unfolds from the points of view of Pelon, Shields and Diablo, none of the separate story arcs building sufficient momentum to hook up with the others. Cotten’s direction seems unfocused, latching onto the latest plot development, dropping it after an unprepossessing miniclimax and trotting over to the next. Action scenes, almost always explained after the fact, often lack the rhythm or pizzazz to justify their having been staged in the first place.
Thesping is fine, with lots of good character work supplied by Morton, Davidson, Kevin Gage and Danny Trejo. Liotta could essay the role of troubled assassin in his sleep, and almost does, but the script gives him little to wrestle with; Morales’ commanding but one-dimensional sociopath switches from seething anger to sadism and back again. Garcia shines, as usual, and Assante surely makes for a killer priest. Valerie Cruz, portraying a compassionate prostitute who befriends Liotta’s assassin, all but steals the show.
Pic can claim an authentic Mexican look (it was filmed on location in Tijuana); tech credits rate as competent if underwhelming.