Hilary Rodham Clinton probably will skip "Barb Wire" director David Glenn Hogan's action epic "Most Wanted," a clever but contrived conspiracy thriller about the assassination of a fictitious First Lady. Wayans plays rogue Marine Gunnery Sergeant James Anthony Dunn whose own superior officer frames him for gunning the first lady down. Actress Jill Hennessey appears as Dr. Victoria Constantini, a Zapruder style eye witness who videotapes the real assassins that shot the President's wife. Before long Constantini finds herself on the lam with Dunn. Despite its clearly imitative nature and its wholly disposable plot, "Most Wanted" contains enough okay action scenes to make the grade. Nevertheless, this standard issue shoot'em up is definitely not the best work of actor/writer Keenen Ivory Wayans. He was more fun in his 1994 action comedy "Low Down Dirty Shame" with Jada Pinkett.
Not only does Wayans star in "Most Wanted," but he also penned the screenplay. Wayans cobbles together scenes from every major action flick to create his own film. Shrewdly, he forges a plot around a string of surefire movie scenes that he has rewritten carefully. In the opening scene, Sgt. Dunn refuses to shoot an innocent shepherd boy during Operation Desert Storm. Sgt. Dunn's Commanding Officer threatens to shoot him on site for disobeying an order. They struggle. During the struggle, the officer's gun discharges accidentally and the officer dies from a gunshot wound. Dunn receives the death sentence for murder. During his bus ride to Fort Leavenworth, Dunn is rescued by a super secret anti-terrorist military unit. An evil, redneck Gen. Adam Woodward, alias Lt. Col. Grant Casey (Jon Voight of "Midnight Cowboy") gives Dunn the option to either join his group or die. Reluctantly, Dunn agrees to join and finds himself the designated hitter in an assassination attempt.
The unit has targeted shady biochemical mogul Donald Bickhart (Robert Culp of "Hickey and Boggs). At the VA Hospital where Bickhart is greeting the First Lady, Dunn is set up. Gen. Woodward's henchmen kill the First Lady and frame him. Now, the Los Angeles Police Department as well as Woodward's gunmen pursue Dunn. Our wrongly accused hero spends the rest of the movie trying to exonerate himself. The filmmakers pad the action out with a superfluous subplot involving the Central Intelligence Agency. C.I.A. Deputy Director Kenny Rackmill (Paul Sorvino of "Goodfellas") smells a cover-up. He is suspicious because Dunn's description as the assassin was confirmed far too quickly. Dunn calls in the agency, but the C.I.A. refuses to help him until he can find scoop some poop on Gen. Woodward. Meanwhile, Constantini doesn't totally believe Dunn, even after he saves her life from a bomb planted in her house.
Director David Glenn Hogan and Wayans have crafted a Kennedy style conspiracy thriller. The heroic sergeant that Wayans plays is the classic loner with either no family or no friends. He qualifies as the ideal choice for the assassin as well as the fall guy. The first scene borrows from the Sylvester Stallone shoot'em up "The Specialist" (1994)" with Sharon Stone. The bus escape scene is straight out of Brett Ratner's "Money Talks" with Chris Tucker. The ebony and ivory combo of an African-American hero and a white heroine recalls the chaste "Pelican Brief" with Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. Like "The Pelican Brief," Wayans and Hennessy never get the hots for each other and play hide the salami. "Most Wanted" has a prefabricated, trace-the-numbers storyline that leaves little doubt about where the action is leading the characters. There are some really dumb scenes, too. After the authorities have identified Dunn, he strolls into a public library to use a computer. The Dunn character wanders through half of the action without a disguise. In the most original scene, half of L.A. chases Dunn onto a freeway in a Frank Capra like foot chase. Sadly, Keenen Ivory Wayans wants to become the black equivalent of Stallone's Rambo character. He makes a suitable, straight-forward hero, but he's far too dull. Mario Van Peebles would have been a better choice for Dunn. Wayans plays a squeaky clean hero.
The reverse occurs when the antagonists are involved. Enjoying a villainous career comeback since "Mission Impossible," Jon Voight conjures up a full-blown portrait of evil. As Gen. Woodward, Voight is a ruthless adversary. Paul Sorvino lends his considerable screen presence as the spy chief to the C.I.A. subplot as does Eric Roberts as his aide. "Most Wanted" squanders both Sorvino and Roberts. "Miami Vice" supporting actor John Diehl shows up in yet another cameo as a police captain. Luscious actress Jill Hennessy is sexy enough, but she never really proves herself either as a heroine or a hot date.
"Most Wanted" emerges as brisk, harmless action fodder. Don't dwell on its improbable plot if you want to enjoy it for the mindless fodder that it is. Just sit back and get a kick out of its adrenalin antics. The pizza scene is hilarious and the dialogue on the prison bus is a hoot! Wayans appears to have had the most fun writing in the scene where dozens of blacks with shaven heads crowd the scenes. Another funny moment occurs when a guard mistakes Dunn for another talk-show host and asks for his autograph. "Most Wanted" plays it safe, confining itself to familiar territory, doing exactly what you expect for a thriller of its caliber, and delivering the usual quota of thrills, chills, and spills without offense of any kind. Composer Paul Buckmaster endorses the action with a flavorful musical score, and "Set It Off" lenser Marc Reshovky's murky photography captures the element of paranoia that suffuses this saga.