John Badham’s slick thriller tries to run too many gimmicks at once, like a cable series with a season’s worth of plot twists compressed into 90 minutes. In fact, that’s the first gimmick, it’s one of those ‘real time’ pics with Johnny Depp as a single dad who’s picked at random to assassinate Governor Marsha Mason in the next 90 minutes (tick-tick-tick) . . . or ‘Never see your little girl again.’ That’s gimmick #2. There’s little Badham can do to help us swallow this idea, why should Christopher Walken & his gang of baddies pluck some schmo they spot at the Amtrak terminal to play amateur gun man? Some of the gimmicks show promise, like having the hotel staff coming to Depp’s assistance, or a quick flash of alternate reality plucked from Ambrose Pierce’s AN OCCURENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE. But Patrick Sheane Duncan’s script is too lazy to properly work things out. Instead, clues are conveniently overheard as needed. (At one ludicrous point, Depp gets Walken to open up in front of Charles Dutton’s shoeshine guy simply by saying he’s deaf.) Still, the film is worth a look just as a reminder of how good Depp can be playing a normal guy. He’s fallen so deeply into playing outliers and working up crazy attention-getting character masks that you worry if he can still play (or be accepted playing) a Regular Joe. Especially since his last shot at it, in THE TOURIST/’10, made his normalcy into a bit of a freak show.
DOUBLE-BILL: Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS/’35 is the granddaddy of these innocent-guy-gets-mixed-up-in-assassination/espionage-plot pics. But the trick that lets the audience swallow the set-up, no matter how farfetched it turns, is that our rube isn’t chosen, but falls into danger.