Arlington Road
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 117 Minutes

Jeff Bridges: Michael Faraday
Tim Robbins: Oliver Lang
Joan Cusack: Cheryl Lang
Hope Davis: Brooke Wolfe
Robert Gossett: FBI Agent Whit Carver
Mason Gamble: Brady Lang

Produced by Ellen Dux, Tom Gorai, Jean Higgins, Judd Malkin, James McQuaide, Tom Rosenberg, Ed Ross, Marc Samuelson, Peter Samuelson, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Ted Tannebaum, and Richard Wright; Directed by Mark Pellington; Screenwritten by Ehren Kruger

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"Arlington Road" is a movie so filled with moronic intentions and illogical ideas that, had there been any truth to them, might have led audiences to believe that we live in the Twilight Zone. In demanding us to comprehend every absurd plot twist and coincidence, the film teeters on the brink of being one of the worst of the year far too often. It is void of intelligence, sufficient reasoning, convincing characters, and total believability. Yet within the walls of this very theater, most of the viewers appeared to be enjoying themselves; occasionally, however, there were one or two observers who would step out of the room and never return. They were the lucky ones.

The plot carries with it a stench from the old setup of "Apt Pupil," in which the main character is involved in a lecture on manmade disaster, only to realize that one of his own neighbors knows more about it than one might imagine. Instead of the holocaust, what we have here is terrorism: a field that is in itself a disaster waiting to happen. Not surprisingly, it has already been the root subject of countless studio movies, including last year's "The Siege," and even "True Lies," the multi-million Schwarzenegger blockbuster that should have been named "How To Succeed In Terrorism Without Even Trying." Each film is like watching a bomb tick up to the last second, ending with an explosion of disastrous effects. Alas, too, like a bomb, the sight is not always pretty, and what follows the buildup in "Arlington Road" is a series of disasters, coincidences, twists and persuasions that flout every ounce of logic, and should have never happened in the first place. Once you take them into account, you slowly come to the realization that the rest of the plot doesn't make much sense, either. So what are we left with by the end of this churlish mess? A big empty hole that could have easily been prevented.

Jeff Bridges plays Professor Michael Faraday, the man in question, who teaches a course on terrorism to the students of his history class at George Washington University in Virginia. The subject is not easy for Faraday, however, since he recently lost his own wife to an anti-terrorism mission. Still, he survives in the suburbs with his son, Grant (Spencer Treat Clark) and his new girlfriend, Brooke (Hope Davis).

One day when driving home, he comes across a young boy, about Grant's age, who has been severely hurt in a freak accident with fireworks. He is immediately taken to the hospital, where Faraday learns that the boy belongs to new neighbors of his from across the street, Oliver and Cheryl Lang, played by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack. The occurrence brings the neighbors together, eventually as close friends. But it's only a matter of time when we, and Michael, realize that Oliver has a thing for explosives and is involved greatly in the act of terrorism.

The script, naturally, depends on the trust of the audience in order to come across effectively. Such trust must be earned, however, and not be forced upon the viewer. The movie fails in this way because none of the situations and/or occurrences have a smidgen of believability to them. For the benefit of the whole setup, however, I'm willing to accept the fact that this premise is possible in real life. I believe, truthfully, that people such as Oliver Lang can live among us without our knowledge. Heck, if child molesters, serial killers and basket cases can, why not terrorists?

But none of this seems to matter by the time the movie reaches its last hour. A reasonably intelligent script might have continued with the promising premise on a note of believability or understanding, but "Arlington Road" prefers to deal out apparatus after apparatus. The whole use of contrivance destroys any appreciation or understanding we might have felt for these characters or situations when they first began. Never before have I seen such a wretched attempt at manipulating audiences.

The movie was directed by Mark Pellington and written by Ehrin Kruger, who I'm sure have incredible talent, but are relatively unknown on the movie scene currently, and look to stay that way after this fiasco. Unlike director Pellington, however, Kruger has a wonderful opportunity to put himself on the map this year with a much anticipated motion picture. It's called "Scream 3." A shame it is that his latest effort looks as if it needs an opening narration by Rod Serling.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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