Rated R - Running time: 2:08 - Released 11/20/98

Tracing Will Smith's path to success would yield a rags-to-riches story difficult to believe. A middle class kid from Philadelphia discovers a talent for rap music and teams up with another to produce hit records and win a Grammy award (D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince). Success leads him to Beverly Hills, where a producer approaches him about a TV sitcom based on his own life (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), which runs for 6 seasons and wins more awards. Soon he is making movies, landing a principal role in a summer blockbuster [Independence Day (1996)], followed by another [Men In Black (1997)], winning still more awards. And now he's making $14,000,000 for his efforts in Enemy Of The State with numerous future projects planned, including Men In Black 2 and the title role in a film version of TV's Wild Wild West. The guy's got it going on.

Opposite Smith in this film is Academy Award-winning actor Gene Hackman, whose immense talent is well known. Together they elevate what could be a so-so paranoia thriller into an excellent piece of cinema. Smith exudes charm and his acting is impeccable. Hackman is as good as I've ever seen him. David Marconi's screenplay is put in a pressure-cooker by director Tony Scott, resulting in a thrill ride that almost never lets up.

When attorney Robert Clayton Dean (Smith) is shopping for lingerie for his wife's Christmas present, a package is dropped into his bag by an acquaintance (Jason Lee), who then dies in a traffic accident. The unwitting Dean is instantly vaulted into the cat-and-mouse game of his life, with him being the mouse. Seeking out a mysterious contact named Brill (Hackman), he learns that he is being pursued by the National Security Agency (NSA), Brill's former employer. Dean is being hunted by NSA bigwig Thomas Brian Reynolds (Jon Voigt), because the package contains a video recording he wants.

The recording is a surveillance video intended for monitoring Canada geese, but which captured footage of Reynolds participating in the assassination of a senator (Jason Robards). Reynolds had tried to talk the senator into supporting a controversial bill which would allow the NSA to use its satellite technology to peer into every American's home to search for potential terrorists. But when the senator refused, he was turned into fish food right there on camera. So Reynolds, not used to being on the business end of the surveillance camera, must use all the technology available to him to find Dean and secure the tape (or he'll have to kill him, too). And Brill, who knows the technology, is the only one who can help Dean escape.

Though the speed at which Reynolds's vast machinery whips into action is a little far-fetched in this film, director Scott keeps the heat on and there are few dead spots. It is a smart thriller, and if you can get yourself to swallow the premise of U.S. government satellites being used to focus on some guy running across the roof of an apartment building, then it will keep you on the edge of your seat. The primary reason for the film's success, however, is the excellent performances by Smith and Hackman, as well as by Regina King as Dean's wife and Lisa Bonet as his business contact and former girlfriend.

Smith has vaulted himself into worlwide fame and success in less than 10 years and is showing no signs of stopping. He may soon become acquainted with a new professional contact: a short fellow named Oscar. ****½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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